It was in 2012, when he made his first painting. After being appreciated by his colleagues, he thought of giving new life to his lost passion. Iftekhar A Wani, a self-taught artist from Kashmir, worked in the corporate sector in Saudi Arabia. Having had a strong passion for painting since childhood, she got lost somewhere due to her busy work schedule and family commitments.
Recalling his childhood in Sopore, he would see his father working on designs who was a civil engineer by profession but was inspired by one of the famous designers in the valley, BAB. He said, “His cartoons were published in the daily newspaper and I was drawing the same in my sketchbook. This is how I started to learn as there was no art teacher available at the time in Sopore so I had to learn everything on my own.
After pursuing an MBA in Bangalore, his work took him to various cities in India and Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Bahrain. Loving art, he often visited art galleries, exhibitions and events in these places and cherished the feelings and vibes that Kashmir lacked at the time. “The aura created by these artistic elements and paintings was different. It was a different feeling to be in a place full of art and nothing. For me, art is therapy,” he said.
In Saudi Arabia, he once visited a bookstore where he was mesmerized by looking at a separate art store. Immediately he bought brushes and colors and started painting. He devoted two days a week to his paintings. Soon he uploaded the photo of one of his paintings to Facebook and received immense praise. Then it was not a stop for Wani. He did one after another.
He produces oil, acrylic and watercolor paintings and has an extensive collection, depicting village life, shrines and mosques, art and architecture, mountains and streams on the Web. While making bold and vibrant use of color, he kept the paintings simple and easy to understand as he said art should not create ambiguity and should be relaxing on the eyes.He said art should be like music that is loved and cherished and despite its origin can connect with viewers around the world.
“I like the architecture of the old city, Srinagar. Houses lined up near the Jhelum River, downtown shrines and mosques. I painted temples, bridges and scenes from different parts of the old city,” he said.
In Saudi Arabia, Wani has participated in various events and exhibitions. He said he was the only expatriate invited by the Saudi Royal Commission to exhibit and perform live with the prominent indigenous artists at flower festivals and other special occasions. He was also invited by the Saudi Heritage and Culture Society to do art exhibitions and live performances in many historical places and also at the Yanbu Saudi Chamber of Commerce, he presented his art.
He said: “The response I received was overwhelming. When people saw images of snow-capped mountains, greenery and Kashmiri village life through my paintings, they found it very soothing and healing,” he said.
During vacations, when he returned to Kashmir, he held exhibitions in many places. So far he has had three personal exhibitions. In 2015, he participated in an art exhibition in Sonamarg where all the SAARC peace delegates were present and at the Sangermall complex, Srinagar where he attracted a lot of attention.
Another at Sri Pratap College Srinagar, originally scheduled to be held for one day but due to immense public response, has been extended for three days. The theme of the exhibition was tribute to Sher-e-Khass.
“Besides other works, I showed my work related to the old town. The director of the college at the time was very fond of him. In other places in Kashmir as well, I got good responses from people,” he said.
His recent was a 10 day art exhibition at Mehta Art Gallery, Uttar Pradesh.
Currently, the project he is working on is about the architecture built by a famous Sufi saint, Shahi Hamdan. He said, “Shahi Hamdan built Khanqah e Moula and Khanqah-e-Sopore where he offered Asr prayers. In my work, I will cover all the mosques and shrines dedicated to him. For that, I have to speak with historians and researchers.
Talking about his client base, he said most of his clients belong to UK, Dubai, USA and Singapore. “They know the value of art. The Pursiyar Mandir painting was purchased by one of the customers in London,” he said.
What hurts him is that only a small portion of the people of Kashmir appreciate art and buy paintings. He said the valley has good artists from all quarters but people’s disinterest in art dampens the spirit of an artist. “It takes creativity and time. It takes a lot of practice and only then does it become a wow factor. Artists can’t produce art because nobody buys anything from them,” he said.
Besides that, the lack of art galleries is another obstacle. It is pertinent to mention here that recently the art gallery was built in the old secretariat of Srinagar.
“If the art galleries had been there, we would have had the chance to show our work,” he added.
He added that to promote art and painting, the government should use the paintings made by local artists in their offices and establishments. “Companies can also buy our paints. Art exhibitions should be organized for people to buy. Art galleries should also be in other neighborhoods and there should also be a website or web portal where paintings by local artists can be displayed for the whole world to see,” he said. -he adds.
He believes art is the thing that takes a person on a tour of the place. “A visitor discovers the culture and heritage of a place only through paintings and art. This is the identity of culture. Art, culture and sports make the place attractive,” said he declared.
Talking about his philosophy – art as therapy, he said that today people are stressed out and usually stuck on gadgets. “I want people to take their eyes off their cell phones and see something soothing that makes them smile. If my painting relaxes someone or brings a smile to someone’s face, my painting has done its job” , he concluded.
Masood Hussain, Javiad Iqbal and Rouf Qayasi are some of the painters he appreciates and draws inspiration from.