A film screening was followed by a discussion with the filmmaker and Duke Thompson Writing Fellow, anthropologist Saiba Varma. Co-sponsored by the Duke Islamic Studies Center, the Duke Human Rights Center @ FHI, and the Thompson Writing Program.
Kasheer explores the complexities of life in a disputed territory from the point of view of three local artists living in the Kashmir Valley — a conflict zone in the Indian Himalayas on the contested border with Pakistan. A young political cartoonist offers biting satiric commentary on regional politics. A middle-aged artist reflects on his childhood and the tragic changes the local insurgency brought to his neighborhood in abstract ink drawings. An elderly artist’s vibrant spiritual paintings reveal his quest for inner peace in the midst of perpetual social turmoil. Lushly photographed, this observational documentary provides a human perspective, creating space for thoughtful debate amid deeply polarizing politics.
View trailer here.
Kasheer examines local artistic expression as a powerful source for understanding lived experiences under the Indian state from the perspective of Kashmiris. I lived in India-controlled Kashmir for twenty-months between 2008-2010 researching and filming artistic production two decades after an armed insurgency left 70,000 people dead and 9,000 disappeared. This legacy, combined with an indefinite occupation by Indian security forces produces a profound sense of insecurity which underlies structural violence. The artists with whom I collaborated viewed their creative processes as nascent forms of non-violent resistance, even if it challenges their communities' own narratives of oppression and victimhood. I also filmed the decaying traditional architecture, dying cultural industries, and environmental destruction to convey the sense of tragedy and cultural decline that weighs on the collective psyche of Kashmiris. My film observes three artists engaging with these complexities to re-articulate a national identity which is inextricably linked to Kashmir's aspirations for freedom from Indian rule. They are doing this in English through global contemporary art forms such as paintings, cartoons, and graphic novels. However, it was witnessing the 'grey areas', paradoxes, and absurdities of daily life in Kashmir which made me question the purpose of my project in the wider field of non-reflexive media: How can my film intentionally provoke transformative dialogue rather than further divisiveness? Kasheer purposefully creates space for quiet reflection amid the cacophony of regional and communal politics.
Elayne McCabe is a filmmaker who splits her time between Boston and Belfast, Northern Ireland. She spent twenty months deeply immersed in the artist and artisan community of India-controlled Kashmir directing her first feature film Kasheer. It examines the complexities of life under military occupation from the perspective of three local artists. She has directed several short films in India and was also a Fulbright scholar to Jakarta, Indonesia where she studied Indonesian cinema. She is an alumnus of Boston College and recently began her PhD in filmmaking and conflict studies at Queens University Belfast in Northern Ireland.