Year 2019 will be remembered as the year of the “Legendary Women of Kashmir”, as nine young female artists have come together to bring out a calendar as a tribute to 12 women of Kashmir who have transformed the history of Kashmir.
Kashmir has been home to many wonder-women but due to underrepresentation, their name and work is not known to the present generations. Their talent and work has made Kashmir culturally rich but their identities remained behind curtains.
Two organisations “Sonth” and “Koshur Lifestyle” joined hands together and formed a new group called ‘Kashmiri Women’s Design Collective’ and shaped the idea of honouring the great women of Kashmir.
Looking at the current status of women in and around Kashmir, these artists believe that the world must know how powerful and impactful women can be when it comes to building a society or a nation. Freedom to work and freedom of expression must be given to women as much as it is given to men.
After researching and studying historical accounts, these collective of artists chose 12 women to be represented. This will not just be a much deserved tribute to these 12 women but will also help increase awareness about them and their work.
January- Habba Khatoon, ‘Zoon’
The calendar starts with a black and white painting of a woman wearing traditional Kashmiri dress with a crescent in the back ground. The lady is Habba Khatoon whose “pet name was Zoon which means crescent”.
Habba Khatoon was a famous 16th century mystical poetess of Kashmir. She was born in Pampore, in the out skirts of Srinagar, the summer capital of J&K. She was not just a great poetess but a good singer as well. Her harmonious voice attracted Yusuf Shah Chak the last king of J&K.
The king fell in love with her after hearing her sing from a distance and eventually married the peasant poetess. She became the queen of Kashmir and came to be known as the “Nightingale of Kashmir”.
Her painting for the calendar has been done by Kayehaan Anjum Khan. Kayehaan is a Kashmiri artist based in Dubai. She works with water colour, pen and ink. Through her art, she tries to depict the mundane human aspects of Kashmir.
February- Queen Didda
For the month of February, a canvas of blues, reds, greens and browns reflect the imagery of Queen Didda and her temples.
Didda was the ruler of J&K from 979 to 1003 CE. Though physically challenged, she was a just ruler and is well known for her political acumen.
The artist of Didda’s painting is the woman leading this initiative, Onazia Drabu, a 28-year-old female illustrator based in Kenya. Onaiza along with the other eight women made this idea a possibility. This initiative was taken up to empower women not only in Kashmir but around the world.
March- Ateeqa Bano
The next page has a portrait of a woman known as Ateeqa Bano encased in a brown wooden frame.
Ateeqa Bano (1940 – 4 October 2017) was an educationist and activist for the artistic and cultural heritage of Kashmir. She established the first private museum “Meeras Mahal” of history and art.
The artist of her painting is Zoya Khan who is an architect, interior designer, city planner and digital imaging artist based in Srinagar. Her work is heavily influenced by her understanding of how humans interact with their built environment. Zoya’s primary areas of interest are the heritage and vernacular architecture of Kashmir.
The month of April shows a painting, Arnimal, of a woman whose face cannot be recognised. She was a poetess in the 18th century who was married to a famous Persian poet and historian Bhawanidas Kachroo. After Kachroo deserted her, the pain of separation and her longing for her husband turned her into a poetess.
This painting is by Ghazal Qadri, who is an illustrator and product designer from Srinagar. A lover of visual art and humor, ‘KathBath’, Ghazal currently works as an illustrator in Lollypop Design studio, Bangalore.
May- Kota Rani
An oil painting of a lady wearing a red dress with a blurred face is the month of May. This painting is of the last Hindu queen of J&K, Kota Rani. She ruled Kashmir in the 14th century, and is famous for saving J&K from frequent floods by creating a canal “Kute Kol”, as an extension to the river Jhelum.
Kota’s painting has been done by Sumairha Mumtaz. Sumairha is an architect and self-taught artist originally from Poonch district of Jammu region. She works with watercolour and oil on canvas. Currently based in Delhi, she is working on projects to highlight and give a visual representation to the issues faced by the nomadic communities of Jammu and Kashmir.
June- Muriel Johnson
Kashmiri women holding hands and making a chain is the next painting which is dedicated to Miss Muriel Mallinson, a Christian missionary from London. Miss Mallinson was known for her selfless contribution to the education of women in Kashmir. One of the renowned girl’s school of J&K, The Mallinson Girls School, is named after her.
Nusiaba Khan, who finished her education from Mallinson school, is the artist behind this painting. While speaking with NewsClick she said that the painting speaks about how Miss Mallinson brought women of Kashmir together in the field of education. Nusaiba is an artist and architect from Srinagar and co-founder of stationery brand Sonth Kashmir. She works with watercolour and ink on canvas.
July- Raj Begum
The month of July comes with the painting of Raj Begum, a legendary singer who was known across the globe for her miraculous voice. She overcame many social stigmas and taboos to become the first female artist to perform on Doordarshan Kashmir. She paved the way for female singers of Kashmir to enter the music industry.
Raj’s painting is done by Tuba Nasiem who is a craft artist from Srinagar. She works with paper to create handmade and hand-cut pieces of art. She is the founder of ‘The Papercity’, an art studio that offers handcrafted quilled paper-art and other products.
August- Rupa Bhawani
Daughter of a famous painter of the valley, Masood Hussian, 32-year-old Mahvash Masood came up with the canvas of Rupa Bhawani for the month of August.
Rupa Bhawani was a saint and poetess in the 17th century, and was also known as “Mata Rupa Bhawni”. Her poetry and spiritual philosophies have greatly influenced Kashmir. She is revered by Kashmiri Hindus who celebrate her death anniversary as “Sahib Saptami”.
Mahvash told NewsClick that the current status of women requires a ‘rebellious change’. A woman as a symbol of power, strength and patience is next to God. “Treatment of women in society is really heart wrenching, a woman is treated as if she is born just to cook and stay back home. A woman is the force behind this world. The woman’s womb has bestowed great people to this globe,” said Mahvash.
Mahvash is a full-time artist from Srinagar. She has worked in various mediums – ranging from pashmina, papier mâché, wood as well as oil and acrylics on canvas. She teaches as a guest faculty at NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology), Srinagar.
September- Dr. Girija Dhar
A lady with a bob-cut, wearing a red and blue sari, with a stethoscope around her neck is painted on the page for the month of September. It’s the painting of Dr. Girija Dhar. She was a prominent gynaecologist and was instrumental in the establishment of ‘Lal Ded’, the first and only maternity hospital in Kashmir. She was the first chairperson of J&K Women’s Commission. This painting too has been made by Ghazal Qadri.
October- Lal Ded
Mahvash has contributed to one more month of the calendar. The October canvas represents Lal Ded who is an inspiration for Mahvash. Lal Ded was a 14th century poetess, mystic and saint. She is credited for creating a different style of poetry known as “Vaksh.” Lal Ded’s contribution to Kashmiri literature makes her one of the most revered Kashmiri women even now.
November- Hanifa Chapu
Tuba has painted another painting for November in which she details a green park surrounded by a mountain with a lady wearing a black Abaya and many books next to the lady. The artist here is referring to Hanifa Chapu, the first woman from the mountainous south Kashmir to get a Munshi-Fazil degree in Persian, a bachelor’s degree in education who went on to become a gazetted officer. Later, she became the inspector of schools in Anantnag district. She was known for her strong work ethic and fight against corruption in the education sector.
December- Giyani Mohan Kaur
The last month of the calendar has a painting made by Nusaiba of Giyani Mohan Kaur from north Kashmir’s Baramulla district. Mohan retired as a headmistress in 1976. She was known for her selflessness and dedication to the upliftment and education of women, particularly during the Partition.
This calendar has been put together by Sama Beg, who handled the publishing and marketing of it. Sama is a writer, entrepreneur and management consultant from Anantnag. She was also the founder of Koshur Lifestyle, an online Kashmir merchandise store, in 2017 after noticing an abundance of products in Kashmir that celebrated foreign identities more than native ones. Koshur Lifestyle attempts to preserve and celebrate Kashmir in ways that blend into contemporary lifestyles.
“Our Calendar is dedicated to the women of Kashmir.” said Mahvash.
A woman of substance is a woman of power, a woman of positive influence and a woman of meaning, and these young empowered women in their own rights, have come together to give an artistic ode to a few such women.