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.Cups of nun chai is a seven year participatory memorial that emerged from the Summer of 2010 in Kashmir 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.
Through personal conversation, public media intervention and memory Cups of nun chai explores some of the most challenging areas of contemporary life including the failures of democracy, state violence, armed struggle, the inherent fragility of the nation state, and the power of the media. Cups of nun chai embodies the literal collision of memory and news, of subjectivity and event, of absurdity and urgency, and of fury and sensitivity.
During the summer months of 2010 in Kashmir over 118 people died in protests against the Indian state. 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 it felt 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 conversations, online, in exhibitions, 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 ever 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.
These newspapers – over 100 in total – have been bound into three volumes. These volumes don’t only contain Cups of nun chai, they are an almost day-by-day document of this period in Kashmir’s recent history. The contents of these volumes have been written in part by Alana, and in part by world events, by Kashmiri journalists, by the actions of the state and civilians, and by advertisers whose very business enable the production and circulation of the newspaper itself. All together they paint a telling picture of life in Kashmir today and shed light on its relationship with the world we share.
These bound volumes of newspapers now form the basis of the next iteration of this work as they travel to exhibitions, libraries, events, and domestic settings catalysing space for thought, conversation and remembrance.
Cups of nun chai won the 2017 Incinerator Art Award: Art for Social Change., was nominated for the Infinity Awards at the International Centre for Photography (NY), and a finalist in the Blake Prize for the Religious and Spiritual in Art.
The work can be seen in its entirety online at www.cupsofnunchai.com where it has unfolded progressively since 2010 and where you can track the work’s next public appearances.
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.