The fourth edition of Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) had a mini biennale, Srinagar Biennale, as its infra project. One of the major attractions of this project was a performance act on December 14, 2018, by two Kashmiri artists Saquib Bhutt and Hina Arif. They stood at the entrance of the TKM Warehouse gallery in Kochi, and frisked and questioned every visitor to the gallery.
The duo did this 12-hour performance act to examine how the highly political subject of surveillance and lockdown intervenes in the social life and induces violence and trauma, as well as sufferings which cause people to adjust their behaviours to escape from harassment.
Now, after eight months since that performance, Jammu and Kashmir is facing another major lockdown. And, the restrictions to movement and complete blackout of communications systems in the state had left two students artists from the University of Kashmir’s Institute of Music and Fine Art, Asif Haneef Shah and Zaid Meraj Bhat, trapped in the state, who were due to partake in the famed Pepper House Artist Residency programme of Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF).
"These are selected students from the last year's Student's Biennale, which run parallel to the KMB," says Gowtham Das, assistant director of programmes at the KBF. "There are reports that restrictions are eased in many parts of Kashmir. But we haven't heard anything from them, yet."
Mir Lateef, Ushmayo Dutta and Owais Ahmed, the other three student artists who got selected for the residency programme, managed to leave Kashmir before its borders were closed.
"Another five students from Kashmir who completed their residency last month, returned from Kochi on 31 July," says Das. "Among them, four are now in Kashmir and we don't know what happened to them."
Das says that the Biennale Foundation is open to receiving Shah and Bhat at a later date. "But we don't know if they will be able to make it since their university schedule may not permit them to do that."