MARYVILLE — Adil Abbas Sheikh comes from a conflict zone. People from his generation are known as "conflict children" because it's all they've ever known.
The 24-year-old Northwest Missouri State University graduate student comes from Srinagar, Kashmir, where land disputes between the Indian and Pakistani areas of Kashmir result in violence that has cost thousands of lives; Sheikh lost an uncle to a bomb blast last year.
The son of a college professor, Sheikh came to Northwest to earn a master's degree in business administration eight months ago. He arrived knowing no one, but he saw an opportunity to help his countrymen half a world away and has since developed a family in the art faculty and students at Northwest.
Martha Breckenridge teaches art history at Northwest. She's been fascinated with Kashmir since her godmother, who visited Kashmir when Breckenridge was a child, told her about the beautiful valley surrounded by mountains. She is part of FIS — Friends of International Students — at Northwest, an organization that matched her with Sheikh due partly to his interest in art.
One of their first discussions involved Sheikh's art events in Kashmir, and it quickly evolved into discussion about giving the Kashmiri artists an outlet at Northwest.
Sheikh considers himself an art promoter more than an artist. But his passion is in promoting artists and peace in his home country where art galleries are basically non-existent, he said. And because of the many years of turmoil in his hometown of one million people in the Kashmir valley, a beautiful but turbulent area, much of the artwork involves themes of conflict.
"It affects the way you think, the way you draw, the way you write," Sheikh said of the psychological effects of violence.
Sheikh began promoting Kashmiri art a few years ago. His discussions with Breckenridge and students in Kappa Pi, the art fraternity at Northwest, led to the development of the "Kashmir Crossover."
Over a three-month period, students communicated via Skype and email about art and culture. They viewed the art and talked about the creation of their individual pieces. The Kashmiri students took photographs of their art and sent them to Northwest where they were projected onto walls in the university's gallery.
"It was a very rich experience," Sheikh said of the Kashmir Crossover, which ended earlier this month.
Conditions being what they are in Kashmir, artists have a tough time coming up with the money for art supplies. Art students at Northwest began selling ceramics and other art to establish a scholarship fund. They raised $800, which is enough to put three Kashmiri students through a year of art school and pay for their supplies.
"We plan to take this even further," Sheikh said of the art exchange and the fundraising efforts.
Breckenridge said they are looking into grants to help continue the event, but on a bigger level, because the Kashmir Crossover provided "such an enormous enrichment for our students and faculty."