Paper txt msgs from Kashmir
“Paper txt msgs from Kashmir….tells the story of an old conflict in the thwarted missives of those enduring its latest indignity. The result is a poignant, inventive and heart-breaking look at the interruptions wrought by the ban on people caught between two countries, two militaries and hundreds of millions of nationalism-fed egos. The 150 messages take us, well meaning web voyeurs, into the inner rooms of the Kashmiri limbo.”
Rafia Zakaria, Art and Resistance
Paper txt msgs from Kashmir began in December 2009 as a low-tech participatory media intervention initiated by Alana Hunt as a kind of tongue-in-cheek response to the government’s ban on all pre-paid mobile phone services in Indian occupied Kashmir on the basis of ‘security’.
Over time the work grew into a multi-platform body of work incorporating video, installation and a publication circulating in both on and offline environments. First released as an e-book online in May 2011, available on this site, and published in print in August that same year the publication contains a collection of new writing from Kashmir by Suvaid Yaseen, Majid Maqbool, Zooni Tickoo, Iram Razzaq, Rahim Seab, Gowhar Fazili, Uzma Falak and Tanveer Ahmed.
The following is the story of this work,
In the winter of December 2009 close to a thousand “paper txt msgs” were distributed throughout Indian occupied Kashmir as a kind of tongue-in-cheek response to the government’s ban on pre-paid mobile phone services in the region.
Virtually overnight hundreds of thousands of mobile phone users – people conducting business, college students, families, distanced loves were left without means of telecommunication.
There was little more than a whisper from the media; it was not an isolated incident. The monitoring, blocking and banning of phone services is just one of the many ways in which India’s military occupation intervenes into, disrupts and desecrates the rhythms of daily life in Kashmir.
Through the distribution of an “alternative communicative tool” dejected pre-paid subscribers were invited to write a “paper-txt-msg”, to anyone real or imagined, about anything they would like to write in a txt msg but were suddenly unable to do so.
These paper txt msgs moved between people’s hands in different ways and different places throughout Kashmir; they carried stories of their own, with many eventually finding their way back to me. It is these paper txt msgs, a cacophony of diverse and wonderful voices, that have come to form the basis of this multi-platform body of work.
Between 2009-11 many people, both near and far, gave shape to this project and its various formations over time, without which it would never have come into being.
But while each paper txt msg that we see here holds an important story, it is equally powerful to imagine where those 850 paper txt msgs that were not returned lie today. To what use were they put? What stories have they carried?
One paper txt msg rests in the drawer of a bedside table in Srinagar. Another is used as a bookmark, sliding between pages daily. One is carried inside a well-worn wallet, while another lies lost on the roadside, only to be stumbled upon by someone new. A note of love, scribbled with urgency, is now kept safe and hidden away deep in the pocket of a pheran.
What is central to this work is not only the paper txt msgs, the video, the book and their circulation in both on and offline environments – but, everything that lies between these things.
It is the thoughts that were probed, the discussions that were generated and the ideas and feelings that have been voiced.
Across Kashmir, India and Pakistan media outlets began to speak, through the paper txt msg project, on issues they had previously been silent on.
Personal, political and imaginative; it is all these ever-elusive yet vital parts of the picture that are the art work. In a sense it is art-working.
A poignant and incisive art initiative that delves into so much more than merely the superficial newsy politics of Kashmir. I think this is a way to not just read and watch history, but to experience how it is made of the enormity of inner lives, which dwells in the so-called ‘small’ things.”
Swaati Chattopadhyay, New Delhi based writer and dancer
“The work beautifully captures the banality of what has been barred in Kashmir in the name of security….most of the messages in the collection are related to everyday life, a pointer towards how life remains affected in Kashmir even in times of relative calm.”
Nawaz Gul Qanungo, If there were smses to sell, what would you write?
Art and Resistance, by Rafia Zakaria in Dawn, 27 July, 2011.
If there were smses to sell, what would you write? by Nawaz Gul Qanungo in Dawn, 22 July, 2011.
Kashmir’s Paper Tigers by Neha Thirani originally appeared in the Times of India Crest Edition, 2 July, 2011.
Ban on SMS evokes elegy by Aussie, by Noor-Ul-Qamrain in The Sunday Guardian, 10 July, 2011.
Letters from Kashmir, by Baba Umar first published in Kashmir Dispatch 7 May, 2010.
Ban on pre-paid meets sarcasm in Kashmir by Baba Umar first published in Rising Kashmir, 22 December, 2009.
Sarai, New Delhi, 2010,
Fraser Studios, Sydney, 2010
Memefest, Berlin, Nijmegen, Ljubljana, 2011
Sydney College of the Arts Galleries, Sydney, 2011 where Alana was awarded the prestigious Fauvette Laureiro Memorial Artists Travel Scholarship.
Artraker (finalist), Goldsmiths College, London, 2013
Oceans of thanks to all those, near and far, who have and continue to give shape to this project and its various formations over time.
In particular Suvaid, Majid, Suhail, Fayaz, Riyaz, Tanveer Hussain, Mubashira, Irshad, Ishtiyaq, Inder and Zooni, Tanveer Ahmed, Gowhar, Iram, Uzma and Rishin. Many warm thanks. And to Rupin for her attention to detail, for prodding and for always understanding.