Published: 23rd September 2020
Landed in the Kashmir 'Strip':Why Mir Suhail's compelling cartoons are inherently political and make a great point
Mir Suhail talks about growing up in Kashmir and the impact that had on his work as an artist
Even a cursory glance at cartoonist Mir Suhail’s Instagram page will have you gaping. It isn’t just about the art, there are many great artists in the world but Suhail’s work really shakes you. Not just what he says, but in the way that he says it. From problems in the country’s politics, the media, harassment, abuse, the environment - Mir always has something to say, or rather, draw. The passion for this art came from all the Tom and Jerry and other cartoons he watched as a kid, even as the world raged on outside his windows.
Mir was born and raised in Kashmir and a lot of his work also reflects the times he grew up and the times he is living in now as well. “Like all children, I love watching cartoons and very soon I became very passionate about it. I would watch Tom and Jerry and relate that to actual life. So I started drawing at a very young age but of course I was too little to use it to express myself the way I do now,”he said. But it was his own suffering that soon made it possible for him to use art as a medium to express his feelings. “Both suffering and fear pushed me to draw more,” he said.
Mir's most recent viral work | Courtesy: Mir Suhail
When he was about 15, friends urged Mir to start contributing to newspapers. “I realised that drawing political cartoons was quite challenging. But I learnt a lot in the process. My friend’s father was an editor in a newspaper, so I got the opportunity to work. It got easy over time, because cartoons reflect life and life in Kashmir is political,” he explained. Soon he began to contribute to a wide range of media platforms.
When it came to college, Mir’s cousin, a singer, suggested that he pursue a Fine Arts degree, he told us, “I come from a working-class family and art is for the privileged. Only they have the resources to spend money on it because it is an expensive living to pursue as colours, paints, all drawing material is expensive and we have to buy something almost every other day. But the thing is my grandfather was a musician too, so since we did have some people in our family who had taken up unconventional professions, I got a lot of support from my family to pursue the five-year degree.”
Mir's art covers a range of issues | Courtesy: Mir Suhail
The 31-year-old moved to Delhi to work there for a while before shifting base to New York. But even though he’s far away geographically, he continues to be tied to the issues in India, especially Kashmir, and continues to sketch the episodes of life in the valley. “I talk to a lot of people before I draw anything - especially to my family and friends who are still there. I don’t close my eyes to what is happening. People follow me because of what I show and I ensure I draw the truth,” he tells us.
The artist has over 36,000 followers on Instagram. Recently, his cartoon on the media controversy involving Rhea Chakraborty went viral on the internet. “It really seemed to me like it was the media that surrounded her while she walked to the court. She was being harassed. As a man, I was pained by it because it was very familiar to me. There have been so many times that I have been in that position, I’ve seen how women get harassed in public transport and in crowds and I’m helpless in those situations because I am Muslim and Kashmiri. I was too afraid to react. Because of my religion and where I came from, I felt helpless. But when I saw this happened, I knew I had to say something about it.” But that was not the only reason, “This happens in Kashmir too. The media lies about us, our people. It doesn’t talk about the loved ones we’ve lost, the ones who were tortured, family members are victims of enforced disappearances.”
He says he was happy when his cartoon went viral but some friends got in touch and told him that he hadn’t been given due credit by a lot of the people who had shared his cartoon, “I actually didn’t mind but then I think a lot of people didn’t want to tag me because I’m a Kashmiri. We are not given space very often but I’m glad people understood what I was saying and shared it.”
Kashmir, politics, gender - these are not subjects that can avoid hate and trolling. “I even get death threats and I know it's not safe right now to say what you need to say. But what needs to be said will find its way to the public. So when these people troll me and abuse me, I just don’t respond to them. Mostly, because there is no genuineness in the criticism, it's just plain abuse. So I just continue to focus on my work because that is what is important to me,” the young artist and journalist says.
Edex and The New Indian Express have been curating the 40 Under Forty list since 2017. We featured collections of impactful grassroots teachers in 2017, innovative start-ups in 2018 and environmental impact-makers in 2019. All the people selected have been chosen after a careful process of editorial selection and nomination. Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org