Praneet Soi has been visiting Srinagar since 2009 and engaging with artisans there. This work – presented at his 2019 solo, Anamorphosis, at London’s The Mosaic Rooms – is a product of Soi’s most recent interactions with the atelier of the master craftsman Fayaz Jan, with whom he has been developing objects that explore Kashmir’s multi-religious history. In medieval times, Sufi saints travelled from Central Asia and Iran to Kashmir spreading Islam. A syncretic Sufism – laced with Hindu and Buddhist elements – emerged.
The painting (which references a Mughal miniature from a single folio of the famous Minto Album) is in fact made of papier-mâché, a medieval import from Iran, and its traditional geometric patterns have been hand-painted by Jan’s atelier to reference the Persian-inspired motifs of traditional Kashmiri craft. The ornate turquoise-and-indigo forms of the piece recall the region’s architecture, design and textile traditions; embodying how Kashmir’s syncretic Sufi heritage and its famous craftsmanship have been inter-twined for centuries. Soi’s deliberate allusion to the Emperor Jehangir – celebrating a Hindu festival with relish – reminds us that Kashmir was a favourite holiday retreat for the Mughals, who built gardens and monuments to extoll the Sufi-Bhakti traditions of what they dubbed “paradise on earth”.
Soi explains: “In the atelier of Fayaz Jan, one of his craftsmen, Ali, has a sublime hand. We looked at the original image, which I had studied at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin some years ago. We flipped the image around, removed the human figures to recreate the architecture and to fill it with the details that Ali does with skill.”
Soi’s modified rendition is an astute re-working of Kashmir’s now contentious Islamic heritage; its loss of special status within the idea of India. Instead of focusing on the colourful female revellers or the figure of the Emperor (who takes takes centre stage alongside two buxom damsels in the “original” miniature) we have here a re-fabricated relic of the past that is suggestively devoid of narrative. Does the work deliberately enact the kind of historical erasure that we are forced to witness in India today?
Read all the articles in the Art of Resistance series here.