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Cups of nun chai


Cups of nun chai (2010-ongoing) is a search for meaning in the face of something so brutal it appears absurd. It is an absurd gesture when meaning itself becomes too much to bear. It is also a memorial, grounded in the killing of 118 civilians during protests that roiled Indian-controlled Kashmir during the summer of 2010.

This work is born out of a juncture that is as personal as it is political, as geographically and culturally dislocated as it is grounded.

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Cups of nun chai unfolded over two years of tea and conversation with 118 people, most of them in Australia, some in India and finally back in Kashmir. There were no rules, so long as each person understood their cup of nun chai formed one part of a growing memorial for those who were killed during the summer of 2010 in Kashmir.


Navigating the time and space crafted by these cups of tea—at times with complete strangers—each conversation drew on the specific individual, and on its specific location, tracing connections with Kashmir across the shared global heritage of colonial violence, and particularly within South Asia and Australia. Also, and most importantly, forms of resistance to it—from political coups and mass mobilization, to poetry, rap music and journalism, to the vitality of the domestic sphere, and the power of dreams and gesture.

Each cup of tea was photographed and each conversation written about from memory, and these images and words accumulated progressively online, and occasionally in exhibitions. In June 2016, on the anniversary of Tufail Ahmad Mattoo’s killing, Cups of nun chai began to circulate in the Srinagar-based newspaper Kashmir Reader. Like an undercover exhibition slipping within the folds of a newspaper, reaching tens of thousands of people each week over a period of eleven months.

Amidst a renewed government crackdown on civil society following the killing of the popular rebel commander Burhan Wani, Kashmir Reader was banned in October 2016 and remained out of circulation for three uncertain months. The newspaper ban is just one of the many and ongoing pressures the Indian state exerts on Kashmir’s fragile, yet determined, media fraternity. When the newspaper ban was lifted, the serialisation of Cups of nun chai continued. In this space Cups of nun chai found itself published amid daily news in the pages of Kashmir Reader, as the events of 2016-17 collided with the memory of 2010, blurring the formal lines between art work and historical document.

Like an ever growing memory, Cups of nun chai has brewed into various iterations; tea, conversation, website, newspaper serial, exhibition, archive, reading and discussions, that have circulated through exhibitions and events in Australia, in the United States, in Indonesia, in Kashmir, India and Pakistan.

In late 2020 Cups of nun chai was published in book form by Yaarbal Books, New Delhi. The book is available online and via book stores in Srinagar, Mumbai and New Delhi.

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