With some internationally acclaimed Kashmir based artists, including painters, sculptors, muralists, telling the story of Srinagar through their art, lack of art gallery in the summer capital is playing spoilsport to them.
In absence of art gallery, the artists struggle to showcase their works—accusing government of "playing politics" over the assets of art in Srinagar.
"There is no proper place for artists in Srinagar. We have been assured the establishment of an art gallery many years ago and every time, it becomes a victim of politics," said Naushad H Gayoor, a prominent artist and faculty Institute of Music and Fine Arts, University of Kashmir.
"It is sad that artists here have to suffer for the want of dedicated spaces, Art gallery is a long pending demand and all the successive governments have just done lip service," he said.
Successive regimes established art galleries in Jammu and Ladakh regions. "But when it comes to the Kashmir region, the place desperately lacks an art gallery where artists could showcase their work."
According to officials at University of Kashmir, each year scores of students graduate from the Institute of Music and Fine Arts (IMFA) University of Kashmir (KU) and simultaneously get their Masters and still higher degrees from various institutes across India and abroad.
"We lack cultural essence. Similarly, the officials and policy makers too are indifferent towards art. They are anti-artists," Masrat Shah, a professional painter, alleged. "If we ever plan to exhibit our works in Kashmir, we end up in Tagore Hall, which is meant for some other purpose," she said.
"In absence of a proper art gallery, not only artists are suffering but it also poses a serious question on the genuine works of policy makers and government functionaries," she added.
Prominent artist, Masood Hussain, who is acclaimed internationally for his works, too has suffered due to absence of art gallery in Kashmir.
Artists like Hussain, are now taking to the online mediums for the depicting and showcasing their artistic works.
Ironically, the former governments shelved the construction of Tehzeeb Mahal near the Tourist Reception Centre. In 2013, Omar Abdullah, then chief minister, laid the foundation of Tehzeeb Mahal, an art and cultural centre which was to come up at a cost of Rs 69 crore to be completed in 3 years. However, as the officials failed to complete it within the stipulated time, its cost escalated to Rs 88 crore.
According to officials at Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages (JKAACL), despite so much work on the projects, the government decided something else. He said that Jammu and Kashmir Projects Construction Corporation (JKPCC), the executing agency for the project, spent Rs 8 crore on laying and piling of the structure, but it soon faced paucity of funds causing delays and cost escalation.
The officials said that similarly in several meetings, the establishment of the Srinagar Art gallery was discussed threadbare, however nothing concrete came up. The senior-rung official accused the previous regime of being "indifferent towards the artist fraternity in Kashmir."
"Editor, Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages (JKAACL), Muhammad Ashraf Tak admitted that artist in Kashmir desperately need art gallery. He said that the government had later established a Tehzeeb Mahal at Hari Niwas, which he said has been a viable site for the art gallery.
Scores of artists and of Fine Arts students have expressed their anguish over the lack of an art gallery in Srinagar. "There is a need to create a place, where artists not only exhibit their works but also connect to society," a group of aspiring fine art artists told Greater Kashmir. They said that now in absence of art galleries, few artists launched social media initiatives to take their works to the larger audience. "Unfortunately we are working at 2G speed and we can't even upload our works frequently," they said.
Government is mulling to turn the eighteenth century structure of Sher Garhi, a witness to Afghan and Dogra regimes, into an art museum gallery in Srinagar.
Director, Archives, Archaeology and Museums, Muneer-Ul-Islam, told Greater Kashmir that the "re-use plan" of 'Sher Garhi Old Assembly Complex' into Art Gallery- Museum envisages that the building would accommodate at least 1500 miniature paintings on different themes housed in SPS Museum and other sister departments. The paintings, he said, would be displayed as per the museum norms to provide a single place to exhibit them to the visitors, scholars, students.
The officials said that the department of Archives Archaeology & Museums has approached various departments who have collections of rare manuscripts in their custody to collect the entire manuscript collection for its display at one place.
He said that the art gallery would be widely used by the artists in Srinagar. He said that the move has been hailed by the conservationists and heritage lovers.
Advisor to Lieutenant Governor, Baseer Ahmad Khan said that the government is collaborating with few acclaimed art consultants, who would help the government in "refurbishing" the cultural landscape of Jammu and Kashmir. He didn't elaborate further on the project.