M Yousuf Bacha: The artist who started career at 58

It would take another more than 40 years before he could take up the brush professionally. During these four and half decades he always yearned to immerse in art, but the situation was such he couldn’t do it.
M Yousuf Bacha: The artist who started career at 58
GK Photo

When Mohammed Yousuf Bacha was studying at Bandipora Government School, one of his teachers Ahmadullah Affandi told him that you are more inclined towards art than writing. You should concentrate on that portion only.

Yousuf would often try to make sketches of whatever object or landscape he would see. He would continuously doodle on his notebooks.

Fascinated with the beautiful landscape of Bandipora, he wanted to copy that on the paper. 

In school, Yousuf had two more teachers Ghulam Habib Rabbani and Siddiqui. The former was an art teacher and later was a Quranic calligrapher with added interest in water colour painting. Both the teachers encouraged Yousuf and taught him various techniques in painting. This informal training went a long way in cementing a foundation for an artist in Yousuf. The seed was sown there and it was only matter of time before it sprouted.

As much as Yousuf would have loved to follow the instruction of his teacher but for the domestic problems, lack of support and avenues, he had to keep it to the confines of a hobby.

It would take another more than 40 years before he could take up the brush professionally. During these four and half decades he always yearned to immerse in art, but the situation was such he couldn't do it.

"After my schooling I went to Sopore Degree College. But here I dropped out of college in the second year as I was selected for a ob in Food Supplies department," said Bacha. "Here the work was tough and I didn't have any spare time. But the fire inside me kept glowing and I used to paint only in the evenings under electric bulbs, which also affected my eyes. Sunday was the only time when I could touch the canvas in daylight."

No matter how much Yousuf tried, but the work always kept coming in the way of art.

"To add to my problems there were no teachers or any school in our area where one could learn painting. I was not even knowing what material is used in paintings. It was during one of my trips to Srinagar, I met a shopkeeper who told me about oil colours, acrylics, board etc. I bought the material from him and elevated myself as an artist to another level," remembers Yousuf.

At home Yousuf was fully into portrait mode. Off and on he would draw portraits that garnered praise from his friends, relatives and acquaintances.

Whenever there was an art exhibition in Srinagar Yousuf would ensure he would visit it. "During exhibitions I would look at awe the paintings done by masters like G R Santosh, who is one of my favourites too," said Yousuf. "In North Kashmir there was not such an atmosphere of art so I had to come to Srinagar to quench my thirst as an artist. My family would often tell me why are you wasting your time and your clothes in these paints."

Yousuf retired as Supervisor in Food Supplies department in 2005 and it gave him time to start a new career, a full time artist. "It was a great relief for me as I had enough time to pursue painting," said Yousuf.

His landscape painting has been taken well in the art community. In fact he became one of the sought after title cover designers for books. He has designed over a 100 book title covers.

Till 2003 Yousuf would simply paint at home. During that year Jammu Kashmir Academy of Art Culture and Languages was in look out of artists who need encouragement and help. The academy identified Yousuf along with other artists and an exhibition was organised during which his paintings were also exhibited.

After that there was no end to the demand for Yousuf. He was called by Academy for various other exhibitions, in between he was contacted by other organisations for his work. In 2003 some of the artists of North Kashmir came together and established North Kashmir Art Society choosing Yousuf as its president.

The Society organised number of exhibitions in a almost all colleges and museums of North Kashmir and has been at the forefront of encouraging the young artists. They also organise camps in schools to teach students about this art.

"We want that artists should get some platform so that art in him or her doesn't die," said Yousuf who now dons a twin role of a painter and a mentor to many others. 

Yousuf gets his inspiration from the beautiful landscape of Kashmir. Water is omnipresent in many of his paintings, which Yousuf describes due to the reason of living near a river. 

"Yousuf uses the rich colours in portrait to change Kashmir into even more beautiful art. He is into Impressionalism landscape of Kashmir. Secondly he is both an oil painter as well as acrylic painter and it is rare for an artist to continue both," said Rafiq Masoodi former secretary JKAACL during whose time Yousuf was invited for art exhibitions. "Yousuf is a talented self taught artist. He has not attended any school, yet his art is second to none."

Masoodi said that in 2006 Yousuf gave him a painting in just two hours, which till date has remained a prized possession of his home.

Till date Yousuf has done around 70 portraits many of whom have become decorations in different residences. In landscapes he has done around 150 large paintings of the size of 2ft by 3ft. In addition to it he has also done 70 small landscapes. 

His paintings sell for thousands with steady increase in price.

In his 15 years of career as a painter Yousuf has displayed his creations in dozens of exhibitions. Yosuusf has participated in seven State annual art exhibitions organised by JKAACL. His paintings at Defense Art Gallery New Delhi organised by Sansar Chand Baru Memorial Trust were highly appreciated by art lovers. He was also star attraction at the Golden Jubilee celebrations of JKAACL in collaboration with SAMAPA.

He has been frequent invitee to prestigious art camps where he usually comes up with some of the best paintings. He has rubbed shoulders some of the best painters of state and abroad at these local and national art camps.

Yousuf was awarded Best Artist Award by Jankar Musical group in 2004, award of honour by Master Sansar Chand Baru Memorial Trust in 2014, Award of honour by Humsukhan Cultural organisation 2018 and award of honour 2018 Kashmir Bazm-e-Adab Sangrama.

At his studio in Sopore, Yosusf feels Kashmir has been a great abode for artists and continues to hold great potential in younger generation, but the situation has never been conducive for the artists. "We don't even have a dedicated exhibition hall, let alone other facilities. The society too doesn't treat an artist in an encouraging way. Unlike other places where artists are treated with respect, here nothing such can be found," said Yousuf. However he is hopeful for the future, "definitely there is a change, albeit slow, which needs to be sustained. Nowadays there are so much facilities for students and we are seeing parents too encouraging their wards to pursue field of art, if they have that talent."

As president of NKSA, Yousuf has been trying to revive art and encourage youngsters.

The meetings of NKSA members is different in a way that they try to encourage all forms of art. There are singer like Mohammed Shafi and poets like Shahnaz Rasheed in these meetings. Everyone displays their art as Shafi mesmerises the gathering with his songs and Shahnaz recites his poetry and Yosuf comes up with his paintings. "This way of gathering has been highly helpful, as we have navigated through rough time together and art has continued to flourish," said Yousuf.

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