Art from northerstern India that do not make always make headlines because of the disconnect between the seven sister states and the rest of the country, is gradually waking up to contemporary influences.
Once an extension of south-east Asian art because of intermingling down the centuries, art from the northeastern states of India is now using neo-contemporary styles like photorealism , cartoon and comic techniques, references to vinyl posters, video games, magazine and newspaper clippings and cartoon characters to create new age fables of contemporary realities, says a young art researcher from the Northeast.
For nearly 500 years, art in northeastern India was confined to religious and traditional domains.
The changing trends in northeastern art reflect the existential conflicts that assail the region like terrorism, alienation, backwardness and a clash between modernity and tradition. The northeastern states of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland have been witnessing insuregncy for the past three decades. The Naga insurgency is almost 60 years old- as old as free India.
In one of the most comprehensive essays on northeastern art, “A Metaphor and Some Young Turks: Art of the Northeast” in the inagural issue Artetc, the newest art magazine in the stand, researcher Moushumi Kandali traces the evolution of modern art in the Northeast and documents its contemporary faces.
“The emergence of modern art in the early decades of the 20th century Assam had been a complete departure from the traditional art forms like the miniature, manuscripts , painting, mural, traditional sculpture and crafts,” Kandali says.
Modernism in Assamese art coincided with the publication of the state's first literary magazine 'Arunodoi' published by the American Baptist Mission in which illustrators used British style wood-block reliefs for the first time.
“But four Kolkata-trained Assamese artists, Muktanath Bordoloi, Jagat Singh Kachari, Suren Bordoloi and Pratap Baruah really contributed to the growth of modern northeastern art in the second and the third decade of the 20th century,” Kandali said.
The early influences were romantic, but the Fifties and the Sixties, says Kandali, brought in expressionistic, surrealistic and post-impressionistic idioms.
Meghalaya woke up to modern art in the eighties while Agartala experimented with modern art in the Seventies when traditional art gave away to modern art with the setting up of the Government Art College in Agartala in 1975.
The first trained artist in Nagaland was Bendang, followed by V. Noudi. Art in Nagaland started charting a new course after the Nagaland Art Society was formed.
“Like Nagaland, the modern art movement in Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh also started in the mid-eighties,” says Kandali.
Manipur, which has a long history of royal and religious art, opened up to modern art in the third decade of the 20th century.
Mrinmoy Debbarma, a young artist from Tripura, uses photorealism and comic strip techniques and chacaters from the popular cartoon “Tom and Jerry” to talk of terror and violence in the region and mechanisation of life.
“His recurrent motifs of masked terrorists raises questions about the making and unmaking of terror,” Kandali says.
Young Assamsese artist Prandeep Kalita also speaks the “dehumanisation of terrorism and life at gun point” in his works, bearing ominous titles like “Apocalypse Edge”.
Punyo Chobin, a budding contemporary artist from Arunachal Pradesh, falls back on tradition to tell his contemporary tales.
“He weaves a definitive narrative where myth, ideas, images, signs, beliefs and folklorist visions derived from traditional tribal subconscious are transported into modernist realms,” she said.
Benedict S. Hynniewta, a young artist from Meghalaya, paints his colourful locale and symbols in series. His work 'Offering' with a character holding a betel leaf-nut and egg symbolises love, fertility and dreams,” says Kandali.
Betel leaf and nuts are traditional northesastern motifs.
Banamali Sharma, a sculptor from Manipur, draws from the diverse ethnic cultures for his spiritual works.
“He uses cosmology and Vedanta philosophy for his installation 'Maya'. We can now hear new voices with social transgressions and cultural transformations,” Kandali said.