About Earthquake story
In 2006 I volunteered to help in earthquake affected Kashmir with Islamic Relief and Kashmir Charity Trust. On field trips I took opportunities to sit with people amongst the fallen down villages and towns. Many shared with me stories of the day of the earthquake. In the aftermath of the quake many people had come with cameras clicking. This upset local people in a time of grief and loss. With drawing as my means of documentation however I noted people often responded with pleasure and so I continued drawing.
In Muzzaferabad and Bagh I sat in teashops filled with men who had lost their families during the quake. Huddled at tables, the company of friends and the steaming dal were their main sources of comfort. At first I sketched from a corner. When the men came to come to look at the drawings they would talk. I would make portraits and take notes. My folio of stories began to grow.
I was struck by people’s resilience and warmth at this time. I felt honoured to be with them. Rooms of faces all around me, rich with emotions, are what I remember most. When I exhibited the sketches and drawings in Australia, the eagerness of people to immerse in these very non-mainstream stories encouraged work on “Earthquake story”.
In Kashmir my understanding of its ongoing struggle for autonomy deepened. My experience on both sides of the Line of Control leads me to contemplate what it means to be a storyteller across borders. I think that this means following a larger story of humanity rather than a smaller one about politics. At least with Earthquake story for which the idea was to focus on the particular. As a story it offers an act of remembrance. But this is not about avoiding the issue of oppression of Kashmiris. Story itself has the power to make legends of ordinary people, for ordinary people. By generating empathy, solidarity, and connection between such ordinary people in Australia, India, and Pakistan in their experience of the paintings, perhaps such gulfs of culture and geography that always seem to be so ably exploited by tyrants, become less.