Photographer Bharat Sikka grew up in India, but it was in 2013 that he took a holiday with his family to the mountain-studded northern state of Kashmir for the first time. Belying the area’s sublime snow-capped beauty, a political and sectarian conflict still wages between China, Pakistan and India. It was in this context that the Parsons photography graduate read Mirza Waheed’s novel The Collaborator which “tells the story of a young Kashmiri man’s struggle with his own sense of self, buffeted by the exigencies of history and the present”. Inspired, Bharat returned to the region the two years after, his purpose to photograph Kashmiri people in an “attempt to make some sense of their dilemma through his own personal experience.”
The resulting series Where the flowers still grow, begins to unravel the complex story of a nation, at its heart a set of portraits of isolated young Kashmiri men made to look more alone by the vast, wild landscapes they are placed within. “The colossal grandeur of an unspoiled nature which seems to know nothing of national borders and political rivalries,” Bharat notes. Nature might ignore political strife, but the emotional impact of years of violence is visible in the eyes of the young men who stare unflinchingly at Bharat’s camera lens. Here, the photographer finds “the residual evidence of traumatic events, and the mute witnesses to the convulsions of history.”
Bharat’s lens reveals a secondary, less visible, layer of fear, a reflection of the photographer’s own preconceptions. “I photograph men, because I am uncomfortable around them, more so if they are too many of them,” the photographer admits.