The Message is the Medium

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Alternative art Boxes made from news reports on violence in Kashmir

KASHMIR HAS received ‘bad press’ for more than two decades now. For national newspapers and magazines, the region is explained by government hand-outs declaring shoot-at-sight orders; by separatist guerrillas planning to attack military installations; by mothers gathered in parks, holding pictures of their dead sons or disappeared husbands; by burnt-out buildings, bullet-riddled torsos, tortured civilians. It’s a part of the world reduced to headlines, to assertions in a trenchant op-ed.

For the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department and Delhi-based Publicis Communication Pvt. Ltd, the international advertising and public relations giant, it was time to take that negative energy, all that pontification and political posturing, and transform it into something positive, something beautiful, something a little sad and more than a little ironic.

Their rather ingenious project is called ‘ReNews Kashmir’, in which all the bad press, the reams and reams of paper is turned into the raw material for an art we have come to associate with Kashmir — papier-mâché, introduced to Kashmir in the 15th and 16th centuries.

“Violence has always hogged the headlines,” says an official at Jammu and Kashmir Tourism, “but our aim is to remind the world that Kashmir has a beautiful side to it as well.” The group collected newspaper and magazine articles, as many as 3,000 cuttings and commissioned some of Kashmir’s best artisans to mix the paper with cloth, rice straw and copper sulphate to form the pulp from which they made 200 of the intricately patterned, carefully crafted boxes to be found in Kashmiri handicraft stores everywhere. But this, as an accompanying note asserts, is “not an ordinary papier-mâché box”. It represents a “metamorphosis”, the transformation of something bad into something undeniably positive.

“Our aim,” says a member of the team at Publicis Communication “is to send them as gifts to those who make the news.” In the words of that accompanying note: “Till today, your words have laid bare the strife of Kashmir. Maybe they could also reveal the culture, the heritage and the art of the Valley. Maybe they could talk of a vibrant people who find reasons to smile despite the hardship they face.” The team has already created a database of 200 influential reporters and editors who cover Kashmir for both local and national newspapers and magazines.

The campaign emphasizes on the “emotional value” of the project, says the tourism official, adding, “the cost on entire project totaled around Rs 6-7 lakh.”

Suhail Ahmad, of the Akbar Art Gallery in Kashmir, represents five of the artists who have been working on the project. He describes the initiative as “innovative, unique”.

“I remember one of the campaigners from Delhi travelled to Kashmir for this project. He went back a changed man,” Ahmad says, adding, “While talking to drivers and shopkeepers in Kashmir, he found they have better idea about Kashmir than what many news reports claim to offer.”

Ahmad says the project has an “emotional value” attached to it and they aim to reach out to newsmakers “who can change this long-held false perception” about Kashmir.

He says, “The idea is to create some ripples. We’re not complaining, but we do want to make a point about the kind of attention paid to Kashmir. And to show that we can create butterflies from caterpillars.”

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