Cups of nun chai is at once a search for meaning in the face of something so brutal it appears absurd, and an absurd gesture when meaning itself became too much to bear. It is a participatory memorial that emerged in response to Kashmir’s summer of 2010 when 118 civilians died in pro-freedom protests. Like an ever-growing memory Cups of nun chai is a gentle yet challenging means of acknowledging this loss of life.
Over the course of two years Alana Hunt shared 118 cups of nun chai (a Kashmiri salt tea) with 118 people across Australia, in Brussels and Bangkok, across different parts of India and finally in Kashmir. Alana took a photo of each person holding their cup of tea and wrote from memory about each conversation, which connected Kashmir’s story and the summer of 2010 to countless other places and peoples around the world. Upon a scaffolding of names, dates, and places emanating from Kashmir, here personal experience gives voice to history.
Brewing memories. Tasting Kashmir. In the face of the violence, the growing number of dead and the lack of serious media coverage Alana felt it was necessary to speak, to connect, and to write in a form that would somehow reach places where the news headlines do not.
Cups of nun chai has circulated through converations, online, in exhibitions, art awards and publications, and most recently as a newspaper serial in Kashmir that unfolded over an eleven month period from June 2016 – April 2017. To learn more about this media intervention, the political uprising that unfolded during this time, the newspaper’s three month ban, and the future circulation of these newspapers—please continue reading.
On the 11th of June 2016, Cups of nun chai began its journey as a newspaper serial in Kashmir. Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday the Srinagar-based daily newspaper Kashmir Reader serialised Cups of nun chai in print and online reaching thousands of readers across Kashmir and many more online. This media intervention was a means of ‘exhibiting’ the work in Kashmir, while also bringing these stories of 2010 into dialogue with the news of ‘today’.
Almost a month after this media intervention began the death of a popular rebel commander set off a wave of violence not seen in Kashmir since 2010. Hundreds of thousands of people across Kashmir came out to mark the martyrdom of Burhan Wani and his companions. Protests unfolded. Mourning continued. And the state responded with ever greater force. Once again in Kashmir people were dying and suffering serious injuries on a daily basis. In the public imagination of Kashmir, and in the pages of Kashmir Reader, the news of ‘today’ collided with the memory of 2010 in momentous ways.
On the 2nd of October 2016, amidst the government’s crackdown on civil society in Kashmir, Kashmir Reader was banned indefinitely. The government claimed the newspaper was inciting violence, though no specific example was provided. This censorship is just one part of the ongoing violence of the ‘world’s largest democracy’. Kashmir Reader was banned for being good at journalism. It was banned for thinking and writing in a war zone.
Three months later, as the relative quiet of winter snow set in, the government lifted the ban and Kashmir Reader resumed publishing on the 28th of December 2016. And with it the newspaper serialisation of Cups of nun chai continued.
Together these newspapers, over 100 in total, capture an important moment in Kashmir’s recent history. And in the process highlight points of repetition and change. If 2010 seemed to herald new forms of creative dissent and protest, the fact this was not met with any meaningful response means that 2016 and 2017 have been marked by a return to armed struggle and overt defiance of the military by those without arms on the streets.
These newspapers are currently being bound into volumes that will travel to libraries and public reading rooms, exhibitions and domestic spaces around the world.
If you would like to host an iteration of this work, or have suggestions for venues in your area, please be in touch via email skyabovetheclouds (at) hotmail (dot) com
To learn more about Cups of nun chai please visit: www.cupsofnunchai.com
Nun chai and conversation: An Australian artist’s stories of Kashmir, by Majid Maqbool, The Wire, 27th October 2016.
The AU Interview: Alana Hunt Western Australia, by Emily Booth in The AU Review, October 2013.
De-normalising the ‘normal’ in Kashmir, by Nawaz Gul Qanungo in Kashmir Reader (24.09.12) and Times of India: Crest Edition (22.09.12)
A Thousand Words (about photography): Ballarat International Foto Biennale, ed. Esther Gyorki, issue 02, December 2013.
New work by Alana Hunt and Ingrid Dernee, Mori Gallery, Sydney, 2012.