Kashmir: Metadata of a Conflict / 2019
An anatomical study investigating the multilayered visuality of a conflict.

Year: Fall 2019

Typology: Installation

Size: 33.1 x 46.8 in
Typefaces: Suisse Int’l by Swiss Typefaces, Maison Neue by Milieu Grotesque, Heuristica by Andrej Panov

In August 2019, the Indian Government run by the conservative Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), achieved what was one of the most contentious issues in their electoral mandate, the revocation of the special status granted to the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

A region long gripped by communal and interstate conflict, Jammu and Kashmir first came under territorial strife as a result of the Partition of India in 1947. What was, under British rule, considered a princely state (an autonomous vassal state in the service of the British Raj), the ruler of J&K had to choose between India and Pakistan following partition, with both nations claiming ownership of the region because of its rich natural resources and the strategic advantages offered by the Himalayas.
        J&K eventually acceded to pressure from the Indian government and decided to become a part of India with the crucial proviso of it being granted a special status: of having its own constitution, law and order system, an independent legislative assembly determining its own citizenship and property rights.
        It was this pivotal constitutional resolution that was revoked by the Indian government, setting off yet more conflict in a region mired in a perpetual state of political instability. Making matters worse was the manner in which this revocation was enforced. Citing security concerns, the Indian government cut off all communication lines, virtually silencing the entire region and arresting several leading Kashmiri politicians thwarting potential protest.

Kashmir: Metadata of a Conflict / 2019
Differing Narratives: Protesters block a street in Srinagar after news of the government’s revocation broke out, while BJP party members celebrated in New Delhi.

Hearing about what was being done to the region from several thousand miles away, I wondered how I could communicate to a western audience the complex nature of the Jammu and Kashmir conflict and the political and cultural antecedents framing this particular move by the Indian government.
        Weighing the several methods I could adopt in communicating the urgency and importance of this event, I was reminded of an ethical conundrum raised by a documentary I had watched in 2016. Directed by French journalists Lemine Ould Mohamed Salem and Francois Margolin, Salafistes documented the rise of the Islamic State in northern Mali. Unrelenting in its depiction of human brutality and unframed by narrative or any redemptive moral lesson, the film was gruesome from start to finish. It captured the senseless logic of reality, juxtaposing scenes of public execution with private incantations of religious edicts, subverting any attempt on our part to make sense of what we just witnessed.1 In other words, by jettisoning narrative, it facilitated a cold reckoning with reality, disorienting inner heuristics and rejecting an incongruous comingling of the horrific and the beautiful common to western documentary filmmaking today.

Nicaragua, Susan Meiselas / 2004 Reframing History: The photographer Susan Meiselas returned to Nicaragua in 2004 installing nineteen murals of her own photographs made during the country’s Sandinista Revolution in 1988. She placed the murals at the original sites of battle, helping acquaint the local communities and the youth with their past.

The Kashmir conflict was ripe with such senseless cruelty, discordant perspectives and opposing reactions. It was hard to capture “reality” simply because it was an inherently partisan issue. While the citizens of Kashmir lay in the oppressive silence of Srinagar, parts of Delhi celebrated what was deemed a national victory. How could one capture these jarring contrasts? To me, somehow, the narrative approach couldn’t accommodate the multiplicity of voices, sides, perspectives, testimonies and experiences. It was dangerously reductive,2 giving way to perceptions of the conflict as a battle between good and evil and hence giving license to people to justify human suffering as just another outcome of a moral pursuit.
        So I decided instead on a synergistic approach, of fusing data and narrative by collecting the photographs of an AP journalist who was documenting the conflict in the region, and dissecting the layers of visual information nested in each of those photographs. This involved deriving the metadata of the image— the tools and techniques required to capture each scene, and a subject analysis, investigating the symbols, signs, products, and corporations involved seen in each image.
        The idea was to leverage the consciousness-raising function of photography, with the informative nature of data and figures; a two channel approach. The agenda, unlike other guilt-inducing approaches to image production, wasn’t to lull the viewer into a state of resentment or interpassivity, but to instead focus on educating viewers of atrocities occurring halfway around the world. I wanted my visual practice to speak, and speak loudly for the Kashmiri people while the state languished in silence.

Kashmir: Metadata of a Conflict / 2019

A layered approach to capturing the nature of the Kashmir conflict. Overlapping images of conflict with an exhaustive dissection of all the technical and symbolic details contained within those image to create this field of people, data and symbols.

Kashmir: Metadata of a Conflict / 2019

Adopting a two-channel approach, the goal was to combine the consciousness-raising function of photography, with the dispassion of data. The metadata in the posters captured everything from the identities of the subjects in the photograph, to details such as the cost and source of military ammunition used by armed forces in the scene.


1        Crowell, Maddy. “Salafistes.” The Point Magazine, April 9, 2019. https://thepointmag.com/criticism/salafistes/.

2        Bruner, Jerome. “The Narrative Construction of Reality.” Critical Inquiry 18, no. 1 (October 1, 1991): 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1086/448619.