Sunday, Jan 21, 2018 | Last Update : 03:47 PM IST
A IFA Grant behind him, and a world full of issues before him, Jeetin Rangher’s work with the children of Kashmir is etched in his memory.
I stayed in Kashmir for seven years consecutively, sometimes for six months at a stretch teaching the children art, and healing them through art therapy. It was a spiritually uplifting experience, a sort of Sufi healing,” avers artist Jeetin Rangher. Since 2010, Rangher has been leaving his art teacher job in Bengaluru, and travelling to Kashmir to work with the children in this conflict ridden state. He was instrumental in a community art project in Kashmir called Healing Hands — Art intervention in a conflict zone and is among the few artists that have immersed themselves into society there.
Jeetin was also chosen among six artistes by the India Foundation For Arts for a special grant — Project 560 in 2014. “I was also a part of the Serendipity Art Festival last year and the Jaipur Art Summit. And the Colombo Art Biennale is a favourite, I have been a couple of times,” says the painter who is altruistic in his search.
Rangher’s family hails from Lahore and Rawalpindi till they moved to Delhi and later Bengaluru. So he calls himself the displaced artist, an aspect he can identify with in Kashmir as well. That quintessential searcher, who has with his paintings, installations and performance art… much to the chagrin of his parents and his Air Force upbringing, seen him don some madhatting avatars. Sometimes, in that pursuit, he admits to being penniless, as material comforts don’t feature high in priorities. In the recent past, Rangher has been working on Monsoon in a Bottle Project for Art Oxygen in Mumbai, and eagerly hopes for a FICA grant to explore art further.
But it was Kashmir that shaped and changed his perspective, “I taught at a public school called Motherland Public School in Anantnag District. I would ask school children if they liked art, and most said that it was a sin according to their teachings. Which took me aback. Since I was mostly working with the Sunni sect, many were apprehensive towards art. I would then give examples of something as mundane as setting up a home kitchen, or even designs on our clothes, how there was a pattern to it all, and that inadvertently came under art. They understood. Most students were eight and ninth graders who then started enjoying working with colours and drawing. Another exercise I would give them would be to scribble on newspapers, and then ask them to decipher forms in the garble. Most city children (in Delhi and Bengaluru) would see guns missiles and technology. Wahan (Kashmir) pay, they saw thool (egg), phool, hearts and balloons. That was an eye opener — that in such a volatile zone, the children were refreshingly simple, innocent and untouched — so soft inside,” explains Jeetin, who would listen to their stories, which were unlike any ever heard before about homes displaced, their stark reality. “The best thing about Kashmir is the warmth of its people. Ek autowallah ko aap achi tarah se baat karo aur sach bolo, aur woh aap ko apne ghar le jayaega, khana khilaaney (An auto driver who you’ve exchanged pleasantries with will invite you home for a meal),” he smiles. Jeetin also worked at the Banat School, run by the J and K Yateem Trust. Infact, many a times, he would himself extend his stay, living in different friend’s homes, working with children, hitching rides with strangers, “That was sweet, in a state where a stranger wearing a jacket and a knapsack, asking for a lift at night is suspicious, in the least. Don’t know other cities where people would offer a lift to a stranger,” says Jeetin, who was helped in his Kashmir Healing Hands Project by his friend Naushad Gayoor, a lecturer at the fine art college in Kashmir who also runs a foundation in his father’s name Gayoor Art Foundation.
His art explosion has lead him to Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Simla where he explores social issues. A brilliant painter, he has evolved into an interactive performance artist who can be seen sitting on a charpoy in Goa, hugging people (which raised eyebrows) or wearing a turban on a beach, or sitting in a pothole, with a table of dinner laid out, or even working with the colour red on Delhi streets to capture the various facets that the colour represents, or capturing the essence of India in a golden rickshaw.
Rangher is also working towards a trans Siberian journey, that will see him paint and draw over 14 days across the region. The student of Ken School of Art in Bengaluru who did a masters in fine arts from Bangalore University in painting, recalls his first project, — Karavaan, where he travelled around North India when the BJP was brandishing the India Shining campaign, “I decided to travel in a golden rickshaw, starting from Shantiniketan, I made plastic missiles — plastic being a huge issue, and did about 18 pertinent works.”
The artist feels that art taught in colleges in India is very altruistic in nature — for art’s sake. Most students come out with those ideals, making it difficult for them to earn. “The most important thing that needs to be taught at an art school is art management,” he stresses.
Ask him about some of his interactive installations that seem strange, and he says, “Detached people need to be provoked to react. They should be disturbed in their own psyche and that is what my installations do.”
No favourites, Jeetin feels that picking one artist ultimately negates the others. He laughs at how his Air Force parents still have no clue as to what he is doing, as sometimes they see him with black soot on his face or even haldi! The art activist hopes to address serious issues through art, hopefully making a difference.