Through performance, video, painting and textile, Insha Manzoor informs “self-conceptualized” identities, notions of self and experience within the visual tradition. Her installations examine the interplay of physical and metaphysical relationships, and the knotted connections between cultures and communities. She is engaged with transforming spaces that are permeable, fluid and imaginary.

She completed her MA in Visual Art from the Royal College of Arts, London, and an MFA in Visual Art (Painting) from Visva-Bharati University Santiniketan, West Bengal. Previously, she did a BFA in Fine Art Painting/Art History from the Institute of Music & Fine Arts, University of Jammu. She is the current recipient of the CWIT Long-term Award for Study Abroad by British Council India Trust. She received the Pride of Paradise, Top 12 Achievers Award by JK Bank India. She was also awarded the Young Artists of India National Scholarship, by the HRD ministry of Culture, India. She has exhibited both nationally and internationally.

Insha Manzoor was an artist-in-residence at Pepper House from May to July, 2018. During her residency, she created ‘Trapped, not Defeated’, a large-scale sculptural installation. Towards the end of her stay, Insha shared some thoughts about her work and practice with the Kochi Biennale Foundation team.

The medium of the work I made at the residency is inspired by local material. The whole idea and architecture of the work draws on the fishing trap used by fishermen in the area. I appropriated it in my own medium, and used it as a metaphor – that of a mental trap. The title, ‘Trapped, not Defeated’, is actually an outreach of my own psyche, of my own desire and wishes.

The work is for viewers to wander into. While in a regular fishing trap there is no exit, I have created an exit in my work as a sign of hope. For every trap, no matter what you get in your life, there is a hope of getting out of it. When viewers enter the trap they can face the floaters hanging inside the space – I got the idea from the fishermen using the floaters as a barrier in the sea. For me, it was about taking freedom out of these barriers.  I have composed the colourful boat with fishing net and knots. I usually use knots in my work because they refer to the desires and wishes that have not been fulfilled, and the boat serves an example or a metaphor of a journey in life.

The whole concept of the work is about transforming the space. I want the viewers to come into my world, where I use metaphors and motifs and symbols and experiences from daily life. The audio playing in the work is a poem about wishes and dreams. I have mixed different poems – few lines are from the saint Rumi, a few lines are from the poet Justin Farley and a few lines from my own poem ‘Dreams’.

When viewers encounter my work, I want them to feel the transformation, and make them feel like they are in another world. Perhaps because of the conflicts in my personal as well as social life, I have a desire to create this world without conflicts for people to walk into.

At Pepper House Studio
When I came into Kochi, I saw the boats – and instantly got a sense of nostalgia because of the house boats Kashmir. I had already been interested in the design of the boat, and how it transforms into a house. Here I encountered it once again, and was interested in exploring that idea. This studio space in particular is wonderful. The windows look out to the sea and every morning there were fishermen doing fishing in the boats and that’s how I got the idea.

A Childhood in Kashmir
I was born in Anantnag in Kashmir, but had to shift to Jammu due to conflict in the area. I started painting at the age of 12, and then I did my first solo show at age 13 in Jammu. After that, I travelled across the country with my father because I got selected for the CCRT programme by the Ministry Ministry of Culture. That experience helped me take the first big step towards deciding that I wanted to be an artist. Until 8th grade I thought I would work towards becoming an IAS officer but realised soon that painting was my calling and chose it as my pursuit in 9th grade itself. I belong to a society where it’s very difficult for women to go out, where it’s very difficult to be a woman who lives on her own terms. Women are denied the ability to be strong, or to be able to take your own decisions in life. I think the exception was my father, who supported me in my decisions.

Art Education
I completed my BFA in painting Fine Art Painting/Art History from the University of Jammu. I had an excellent tutor during that time, Harsh Vardhan Sharma who showed me how to achieve goals. At this juncture, I realised that it is not enough to just paint my own world, and that art needs an understanding of humankind. After a strong foundation from Jammu, I went to pursue an MFA in Visual Art (Painting) from Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan. Over here, I confronted international culture for the first time, and there were students and workshops that gave a synoptic view of the art world. I learnt about where I need to stand, about the presentation of my concept and how to create a dialogue between material and concept. But even then, I was not satisfied with the medium I was working in. I needed to learn more.

During my Bachelors, it was my dream to attend the Royal College of Arts, London. I did not have financial support, and it was difficult to think at that level, particularly because society was against me. They said this is not what I’m supposed to do, it’s not within my ability or financial background. I decided then that this is the battle I have to fight, not only for myself but for all the women in Kashmir who have to fight for their lives. After Santiniketan, I got admission and took a deferral for year where I did commissioned works and projects to collect money. After I finally went to get my there to MA in Visual Arts, I learnt about an entirely different system and encountered artists from all over the world. I felt I was at the hub of the art world, finally.

Identity and Self
My works are about women in Kashmir.  In some of my works, I have composed the traditional dress of Kashmir using knots, bangles and slogans. I collected the slogans in protest of the women that were raped in the Kunan Poshpora incident, and other such instances of violence. After collecting these statements and slogans from different women, I wrote them on the fabric with which I weaved the garment. The works are about the women, their wishes, desires and demand for justice. Another work of mine is a portrait that is composed of poems about the women in Kashmir. I’ve written the verses on the garment, sometimes they have been printed and sometimes have been used to written by hand.  In this way, the self and identity are the fitting focal points of my work.

In my art, I hope to create a world without conflict because I’ve seen conflict everywhere since my childhood. I wanted to transform my feelings into art. I am in search for that kind of life, and the series I’m working on now involves welding figures that will be free from conflict. It is a community that I’m creating, a world of my own.