Artist Onaiza Drabu On Bringing Together Women Icons Of Ancient Kashmir In A Calendar
- IWB Post
- January 8, 2019
History, as we know it today, is far more complex than how we perceive it. Over time, it has developed into a system of carefully nuanced narratives and discourses marred by the prejudices of those who have been at the upper end of power structures.
It can be very well understood from the skewed narratives of “mainstream” history why the voices of numerous factions of the society have been tactfully suppressed by those who gained precedence over them by exploiting their position and power.
Thus, if we look at the national history of India, you will find a dearth of Dalit, women, and queer voices. Also, history is not as unidimensional as we often do the fallacy of assuming. It not only effectively suppresses minority narratives but can also tweak it as per the whims of those at the top of hegemony.
Artist Onaiza Drabu realised something similar a few years ago. She shared, “I saw one of those calendars which are really popular in Kashmir and almost every home has one of them. I noticed that out of the 12 prominent personalities from Kashmir (one for each month) featured in the calendar, 10 were men and only two of them were women. I was surprised and taken aback. They could have easily found five other women, you know just to balance the dynamics. But apparently, they couldn’t.”
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102 Likes, 0 Comments – Koshur Lifestyle (@koshurwear) on Instagram: “Grab these beautiful 2019 calendars before prices go up! Just 2 days left. Don’t be a zoumb cokur!…”
The incident planted the germ of an idea in her head which eventually culminated into Women of Kashmir Calender 2019. The calendar has been created by Onaiza and her partner Nusaiba Khan in collaboration with seven Kashmiri women artists. In a recent interaction with IWB, Onaiza talked about how she managed to bring the calendar to life, her preoccupation with history, and her stationary brand Sonth Kashmir.
Here are excerpts from the conversation:
It was years ago that you thought of the possibility of a calendar featuring women icons from Kashmir. How did you finally bring it to life this year?
I had already been making stationery, notebooks, calendars etc, for my brand Sonth Kashmir when the idea struck me. This year when I was thinking of ideas for the 2019 calendar, I thought of doing something with women artists for the women of Kashmir. Like you said, it was an idea that had been in my head for a while, so I decided to finally work on it.
So I reached out to a few women. I sent a message to this lady called Sama Beg, who runs a merchandise startup in Kashmir called Koshur Wear. She was very positive and receptive to the idea and wanted to do the marketing and distribution for it. It was good to have her on board and she has taken care of all the logistics. Then we reached out to a few other artists. Everyone responded positively and was super excited about it. We thus began working on the project.
Tell me about the research process. How did you narrow down the women icons to be featured?
We just came with a list of 30 women from Kashmiri history and then we looked at their past to find out what it was that made them different and how they had contributed to the history of Kashmir.
Our research made us realise that history had been really unkind to so many of these women, especially queens and rulers. So many of them had been depicted as too ferocious, tyrannical, and irrational. Historians in those days were men and it reflected in the ancient history of Kashmir.
But there also happened to be alternative sources which told us differently. We thus thought of changing the prevalent narratives and change the way all these women had been portrayed in history.
A prominent gynaecologist, Dr. Girija Dhar, was instrumental in the establishment of the first women’s hospital in the valley – Lal Ded Hospital. Born in Srinagar, Dr. Dhar went to King George Medical College in Lucknow for her medical education and later to the UK for training. It was there that she met her future husband – another legend in Kashmiri healthcare – Dr. Naseer Shah. The two worked tirelessly in elevating medical education in Kashmir and both served terms as Principal of Government Medical College, Srinagar. They were committed to philanthropy and established various welfare organizations including Rahat Ghar, an orphanage for young girls. Dr. Dhar also served the State as Chairperson of J&K Public Service Commission and was the first chairperson of J&K Women’s Commission in 2000. Dr. Dhar was a real superwoman! Art by the quirky @____alif _______________ Available as a 11.5×18 inch wall calendar and 6×9 inch desk calendar. Releasing new year’s eve. Order exclusively at www.koshurwear.com or www.koshurlifestyle.com ✌🏻 For international orders, please DM or email us! Pre-Order yours before Dec 15th for special discounted prices! ✊🏻 #girlpower #womenempowerment #womenofkashmir #kashmiriwomensdesigncollective #kashmir #kashmiriwomen #womeninhistory #inspiration #koshurwear #sonthkashmir #srinagar #anantnag #proudtobeakashmiri #education #philanthropy #women #doctor #womeninmedicine
394 Likes, 3 Comments – Koshur Lifestyle (@koshurwear) on Instagram: “A prominent gynaecologist, Dr. Girija Dhar, was instrumental in the establishment of the first…”
On that note, would you tell us about one of the women icons from Kashmir’s history that you found to be especially intriguing?
One of the women I picked to be featured was Queen Vida/Bida. She was a ruler in ancient Kashmir. The only thing that people know about her was that there were coins issued in her name and she was called the “ice queen” and a tyrant. But when I actually looked her up I found out that she had been a woman of the people, made great policies, and built numerous temples but she was depicted in history as a dictator.
However, it is very, very hard to pick one, because all these women are so different and from such different fields.
While reading about these women from the ancient history of Kashmir, did you feel like history has wronged these women somehow?
I told you about Queen Bida, but there were many more similar examples. That’s the thing that we wanted to change. We wanted to do away with the prejudice against these women and redefine how they are seen.
Lalleshwari, or Lal Ded, was a 14th century poet, mystic and saint from the outskirts of Srinagar. She is known to be one of the pioneers of Kashmiri mystical poetry and credited with creating a style of poetry known as ‘Vakhs’. Lal Ded was married at a young age but left her unhappy marriage to become an ascetic. Her wise sayings and poetry rose above caste and religion and reflected the interfaith ethos of the time. She is revered equally by all faith communities in Kashmir and is often seen as a bridge between Shaivism and Sufism. Her work has been a source of inspiration for many notable Kashmiri poets and writers. Art by the very talented @masoodmahvash —————————- Available as a 11.5×18 inch wall calendar and 6×9 inch desk calendar. Releasing new year’s eve. Order exclusively at www.koshurwear.com or www.koshurlifestyle.com ✌🏻 For international orders, please DM or email us! Pre-Order yours before Dec 15th for special discounted prices! ✊🏻 #girlpower #womenempowerment #womenofkashmir #kashmiriwomensdesigncollective #kashmir #kashmiriwomen #womeninhistory #inspiration #koshurwear #sonthkashmir #srinagar #anantnag #proudtobeakashmiri #poet
181 Likes, 2 Comments – Koshur Lifestyle (@koshurwear) on Instagram: “Lalleshwari, or Lal Ded, was a 14th century poet, mystic and saint from the outskirts of Srinagar….”
This is not the first of your art projects that goes back to history. A certain preoccupation with history is evident in most of your artwork. Why do you think is it so important for us to go back to history?
I think history is a way to understand who you are, your identity and where you come from. And I think that’s what has been the driving force in all my projects. While all of us get to read about the central national narrative in school, a lot of regional narrative gets ignored in the process. So with that thought in my mind, most of my focus has been the on regional history.
When we talk about this calendar and the women icons illustrated in it, so many people in Kashmir had not heard about most of these women before we turned to them.
Photo Courtesy: Onaiza Drabu