In the concentration camp every circumstance conspires to make the prisoner lose his hold. All the familiar goals in life are snatched away. What alone remains is "the last of human freedoms"—the ability to "choose one's attitude in a given set of circumstances." Gordan W. Allport
Art has always been a human response of monetary, social or intellectual value; philosophically often springing from a man's necessity of communication. It is often understood as nothing but simply as some hypersensitive 'autistic' language which sometimes may or may not be understood by the people who primarily rely on other mediums of expression, precisely verbal communication. However, in conflict zones where bombardments often subdue the gagged whispers, people across ages and time have by-and-large learnt this language collectively as a political resistance tool, and have evolved creatively to communicate, express and somehow survive, thus becoming the indirect patrons of art.
Creative response to threats has always been seen since the ancient times. When cave men first invented coded sounds to warn their fellow-men of the beasts, was it not the same threat that motivated them to create this earliest form of music from their limited resources? Later, what better could they do but creatively transform a simple stone into a chiseled weapon against the looming beasts that knew no mercy and were fundamentally wild? They evolved collectively and learnt the art of pelting stones to the best of their ability.
From a Neuroscientific perspective, our brains readily identify any imminent threats and immediately trigger a need to defend against them. Although this self-defense falls short sometimes and becomes a reason of depression and later suicide like Vincent Van Gogh, yet at other times it explodes as anger surging then a revolution by people like Che Guavara. This human response or resistance against such 'psychological occupation' is purely relative to different human capacities and their power, interpersonal or social status. Because pain is a vicious motivator, such reactions in times of conflict are often found insurmountable and totally undefeatable by the 'enemies'.
Art and Political Conflict
Great stories are never created. They are born in crisis and recorded by great men.
In the Political connotation of the term 'Conflict', we have seen children successfully brewing fairytales promising of some supernatural hero that would fly them out of their obscure basements during the Nazi onslaught. This self-deception based on irrational hope not only steers a man to continue hoping for a better tomorrow but also arms him with an unbeaten resilience to fight back. The awareness of an easy death in a conflict zone teaches the true meaning of life to those who survive, sometimes triggering many artistic responses even from children, like Anne Frank's The Diary of a Little Girl or the excellent watercolors in the award-winning A child in a Prison Camp by Shizuye Takashima; or sometimes even through autobiographies by musicians like the German pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman. We have movies on concentration camps like Gauntánamo connecting art with Politics. We have seen it as a counter reaction to Spanish Civil war when Pablo Neruda wrote his socio-political lines ' from every dead child a rifle with eyes is born', who not only blamed the Nationalists but instead portrayed them in his poetry as 'bandits', 'jackals' and 'turncoats' who slaughter innocent children. Or when Pablo Piccaso painted the horrors of war in his world-famous 'Guernica'. We have similarly seen art springing against the traditional Chinese torture. We have seen it in Wilfred Owen's description of a soldier's death during World-War I by a poison gas in the lines "If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood; Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer", Faiz Ahmad Faiz's Subh-e-Azadi (The Dawn of Freedom); Sadat Hassan Manto's famous "Toba Tek Singh" or Mehmood Dervish's 'Under Siege' when he says for Palestine:
Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time
Close to the gardens of broken shadows,
We do what prisoners do,
And what the jobless do:
We cultivate hope.
It was in jail that King (Martin Luther King Jr.) penned the now historic phrase, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." O Henry began writing his witty stories while serving a sentence. Nelson Mandela's Conversations with Myself was again a product of his darkest hours of his 27 year long imprisonment presenting a journey from the first stirrings of political conscience to his galvanizing role on a world scale.
Similarly in Paintings, we have Peter Paul Rubens's Consequences of War where women are set to be trampled; Goya's revolutionary and unbearably frank depiction of political martyrdom in his 'Third of May" or even Hans Burkhardt's "War, Agony in Death". Again, was it not only but a perfect photograph of baby Aylan Kurdi on a beach that rocked the entire world and became an eternal symbol of an army of dead children of Syria, stirring up the conscience of people around the world while jamming their political cogwheels?
Political art in war-torn Kashmir
In Kashmir, when Agha Shahid Ali promised Rizwan that he wouldn't inform his father of his death, in his poetry:
"I won't tell your father that you have died Rizwan.
But where has your shadow fallen, like cloth
on the tomb of which saint, or the body
Of which unburied boy in the mountains,
bullet-torn, like you, his blood sheer rubies
On Himalayan snow?",
it was again the same human response to pain in a conflict zone where art assumes a moral obligation, of standing for Goodness, Truth and Justice and somehow for also justifying a deeper conscience that instigates a man to contribute his little part in his little capacity against what he perceives wrong, very much like a contemporary artist's rap beats that became phenomenal in Kashmir with its simple lines like: "I protest for my brother who's dead: I protest for the bullet in his head."
In one of the most recent Kashmir's Freedom Movement, we have yet again publicly seen and witnessed an 'anarchic expression' in the form of graffiti as an extremely powerful medium to register this denial of unwanted authority and subjugation and somehow not only to vent out the psychological protest but also as a necessary measure of the survival instinct, irrespective of the underlying reasons whether personal, psychological or purely objective. Slogans like "Alive Burhan" "………… Go back." "Azadi" "I am Burhan. Kill me." "It is not 1 less Burhan. It is 100 more Burhan" sprayed by common people in big bold letters are encyclopedias equivalent to tons of scholarly and research books on Kashmir imbroglio that might never be granted because of the state censorship. One of the finest examples of Grafitti as a Political resistance tool again comes from Palestine, Yemen or Northern Ireland and its popularity and success lies in the simplicity, yet bluntness of the message. Again, preference to globally provocative colours Red and Black further makes their protest more effective and clearer.
Creatively Armed Rebels (CARs)
IN KASHMIR'S FREEDOM MOVEMENT-2016
In the year 2016, we saw art becoming the gunpowder of effective protests through face-paints, mock wounds with cotton and acrylics and artificial ruptured eye-lens in Punjab, bandaged faces of people in Muzaffarabad, people wearing white shrouds in Tamil Nadu, 'dead bodies' stuffed in polythene bags in New Delhi, photoshopped 'Monalisa' and 'Kashmir ki Kali' with ruptured eyes- on internet, all displaying pellet-and-bullet horrors of Kashmir. We saw the Photoshop facebook campaign by an NGO in Pakistan that 'exposed' the faces of various Indian 'Celebrities' like Modi punctured by pellet holes, or the ironical juxtaposition of local dead bodies on 'Incredible Kashmir' wallpapers. In Photography, we saw a stark comparison of Rio-Olympics with 'Kashmir-Olympics' with similar photographs against each other drilling ironies deep within a human skull. We all were shocked by the sheer directness of a recent composition by one Raja Rapstar against the Modi-kingdom that instantly hit more than 2 million views on YouTube. We even witnessed an insane number of paintings, digital art works, collages and even life-size installations canvassing nothing but morbid blood spatters all redefining and collectively questioning India's true sense of Akhand-Bharat Atoot-Bharat.
In the summer-2016, art in the form of 'azadi key taraney' (Songs of freedom) were also sung as war-songs in mosques as though they were bugles reinforcing the spirits of some marching army that gained almost a parallel importance with 'Duroods' or even the stone-pelting on the roads. Mosques expanded their utility from mere religious centers to community centres directing the revolt, openly encouraging poets, writers and artists to join the ongoing Freedom movement, which they in fact did in their individual capacities. While some new poems were jointly composed after the prayers, given a 'musical and rhythmic ablution' and were echoed wide open on the loudspeakers, five times a day; yet many others were composed and presented online before the world on a global front. Consider the following excerpts by the local poets:
"…The enemy soldiers on patrol walk past.
The house is empty. Its inhabitants missing.
The doors are swinging wildly on the hinges. The doors, in wind, are threatening to fall apart.
The windows bear the marks of violence.
The words have been plucked down, from the ceilings, and taken away for interrogations.
The poems have been arrested, in a nocturnal raid, in the courtyard.
its immense arms in air…"
"…as if their longing for freedom is a deviance not a right
as if Burhan is not our martyr like Bhagat Singh is yours,
as if the forests of Tral are not our Sierra Meistra
it is the boys, the government man should know –
yes, the Kashmiri boys, and know well –
those who are killed but their freedom lives
those who lose sight but their vision lives
those who stone the occupation without being occupied
it is the boys that the government man on Indian TV should know –
for, it is that, the boys in Kashmir grow every time your tyranny grows
and know this: it is not only the boys … it is the girls,
and everyone else."
" A prayer for the …….
May beggary be your destiny
May destitution wilt your vanity
May the snare of sorrow hold you fast
Neither cure visit you,
Nor you stumble upon a remedy.
If you wish death upon yourself
May you be a symbol of longevity.
Lord accept this prayer for you.
May love elude you
May the solitude of a fevered winter night haunt you.
Lord accept this prayer for you.
May fate wreak tempests of blood red tears upon you
Lord accept this prayer for you.
Each night, may you dig your parched eyes deep
For a drop of sleep
on your guarded velvet bed
May the dour drought never end.
Lord accept this prayer for you
May silvery moon never sing to you of union
May you never taste its ripe rhapsody.
May you ever light soft candles with tender love
And blow them out in weary fatigue.
Lord accept this prayer for you."