A Kashmiri Instagrammer Draws What it Means to “Live Conflict”


Hina Aarif’s portraits mirror a reality significantly marked by both tragedy and resistance.
Hina Aarif’s portraits mirror a reality significantly marked by both tragedy and resistance.(Source: Instagram/@hina_arif91)

A Kashmiri Instagrammer Draws What it Means to “Live Conflict”

“They make a desolation and call it peace,” wrote the poet Agha Shahid Ali. The statement, sadly, still holds true for Kashmir.

Kashmir has witnessed infinite violence and trauma – families have been torn apart, individuals displaced, and children born in the shadow of terror. For someone who does not belong to the valley, an outsider, it is perhaps difficult to understand what it means to live a life of continuing unrest.

This is where the role of art becomes important. Art has the power to tell stories, to move, and to create alternate histories.

This is exactly what Instagram artist and poet Hina Aarif (@hina_arif91) from Kashmir has in mind. Hina draws powerful portraits of the people of Kashmir, which depicts what it means to “live conflict” every single day.



A self-portrait drawn by Hina captioned, “When resistance becomes a part of your being.”
A self-portrait drawn by Hina captioned, “When resistance becomes a part of your being.”
(Source: Instagram/@hina_arif91)

Telling Stories Through Art

Storytelling through art for 24-year-old Hina began when she came to Delhi to study Applied Arts from Jamia Millia Islamia. Currently based in Kashmir, Hina posts portraits of people on her Instagram account, where she gets numerous comments, both positive and negative, on an everyday basis.

Dawn in pencil colour, with an attention to facial detail and shadows, the portraits mirror a reality, significantly marked not only by tragedy, but also by resistance.

Portrait of Maqbool Bhat’s mother, Shahmali Begum (L); portrait of Parveena Ahanger, the founder of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP).
Portrait of Maqbool Bhat’s mother, Shahmali Begum (L); portrait of Parveena Ahanger, the founder of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP).
(Source: Instagram/@hina_arif91)

In an email correspondence with The Quint, Hina wrote that her attempt is to “fuse conflict and beauty” in her art. For Hina, the portraits are not merely physical objects, but real people and real stories that need to be told.

I don’t just paint portraits, I paint victims, I paint tyranny, so that people’s fascination (with Kashmir) turns into a moment of awareness.
Hina Aarif, @hina_arif91

Living and Drawing Conflict

Some of the most powerful portraits drawn by Hina are those who have been irrevocably injured and scarred due to the use of pellet guns in Kashmir.

“They say it’s a non-lethal weapon”: portraits of pellet gun survivors.
“They say it’s a non-lethal weapon”: portraits of pellet gun survivors.
(Source: Instagram/@hina_arif91)

Among these is the portrait of Suhail Ahmad, who was wounded by metal pellets during a protest that erupted after Burhan Wani’s death. He lost eyesight in one eye, and was left with a scarred face.

Portrait of 17-year-old pellet gun survivor, Suhail Ahmad.
Portrait of 17-year-old pellet gun survivor, Suhail Ahmad.
[Source: AP (L); Instagram/@hina_arif91 (R)]

Recently, Hina drew a portrait of Zohra, daughter of slain J&K police officer Abdul Rashid, who lost his life in anti-militancy operations in Anantnag, South Kashmir. A photo of the young girl crying at her father’s funeral had gone viral on social media last month.



Portrait of Zohra made by Hina (L); the photo of Zohra that went viral (R)
Portrait of Zohra made by Hina (L); the photo of Zohra that went viral (R)
[Source: Instagram/@hina_arif91(L); Reuters (R)]

Hina has also penned a touching poem on life, death, and fear.

Death isn’t what scares me.
This clash of emotions,
this battle of separation between two inseparable souls
has already killed many,
a layer of gloom now blankets the still heart,
the soul has run dry of tears and as for now death doesn’t scare me,
no more.
For It shall come to us all,
all pain sailing moment it shall be.
Death doesn’t scare me no more,
LIFE DOES.

Art as Protest

Hina believes that art has the power to bring about change, and the first step towards change is awareness. She writes that when it comes to Kashmir, justice is constantly delayed, and resistance is repeatedly silenced.

Through her art, Hina’s attempt is to break the silence, to proclaim loud and clear that no amount of hate-filled threats — and she confesses to receiving many — can bring the spirit of protest down.

Self-portrait captioned, “Your face is your canvas when resistance is in your brush” (L); portrait of a college girl from Kashmir protesting against the use of pellet guns.
Self-portrait captioned, “Your face is your canvas when resistance is in your brush” (L); portrait of a college girl from Kashmir protesting against the use of pellet guns.
(Source: Instagram/@hina_arif91)

Hina feels and writes very strongly about the violation of human rights in Kashmir, and around the world.

I paint to spread awareness through my brush, so that justice knocks at the door of the victims of human rights violation in Kashmir, Syria, Gaza, Palestine, and all the war torn regions of the world.
Hina Aarif, @hina_arif91
A painting of Tufail Matto who was killed by shell fired by a policeman in Shaher-e-Khaas in 2010.
A painting of Tufail Matto who was killed by shell fired by a policeman in Shaher-e-Khaas in 2010.
(Source: Instagram/@hina_arif91)

In the future, Hina wants to set up an art therapy camp and hold workshops with survivors of violence and trauma, to help them channelise their pain and anxieties through art. Art, for Hina, also has the power to heal.

To end with a few more powerful words penned by the brave Hina,

This haze, this haze, covering our lives,
has left it all clear and vivid.
This is not just a layer,
it is what sets us free from now on.
No might holds us strong
no more.

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