Few Printmakers from North East: A Brief Glance at the Contemporary Practices
North- East Opsis
by Moushumi Kandali
With the publication of an Assamese literary magazine Arunodoi (1846) by the American Baptist Mission in Assam, the literary genre of fiction writing in Assamese literature saw a fine modernist departure. It is worth mentioning that it was in this magazine that art-illustrations in wood block Relief printing was introduced for the first time in the North-East with portraits of great people, pictures of different animals, illustrations of Bible and other literatures and many other subject matters. As aptly observed by Rajkumar Mazinder in his article about the '19th Century Art in Assam and the traditional influences' published in Ajir Asom, (21st May 2006), all the elements of British Akademic Realism such as chiaroscuro, perspectives, tonal variation, proper anatomical proportion, depth and volume, etc were visible in these illustrations. Some of the artists dedicated to this genre were Rev. Nathan Brown, Tularam, Kanuram, Mohiram, Tuleswar, Young, etc. However, it took several more decades in the dynamics of modern art in north east to evolve a vibrant trend in the realm of printmaking by the end of the twentieth century in the true sense of the term. Unlike other genres of art like painting or sculpture, printmaking requires specific infrastructural facilities to develop and sustain along with various socio-cultural and political factors. Owing to such dearth of facilities the trend of printmaking had to undergo hurdles to flourish till a turning point came in. With the establishment of the department of Graphics in the Government College of Arts & Crafts, Guwahati In 1990, this specific turning point and a new departure was ushered in the art scene of the North-East. The Department had facilities for different media of printmaking such as lithography (stone/ metal sheet), etching, woodcut, serigraphy, along with experimental works of different kinds like plastic sheet etching, plywood engraving etc. Except this department no other art college or university have any department for printmaking in this region though Assam University, Silchar or Manipur art college have few equipments or machines without any full-fledged studio facility. Of course, the opening of a studio with facility for etching and lithography in the Lalit Kala wing of Srimanta Sankardev Kalakshetra in Guwahati in 2004 was a boon for a region dearth of infrastructural advantages.
The two artists who have made an immense contribution to the development of the art of graphics in the initial stage of development in this department in the Government College of Arts & Crafts, are Dilip Tamuli and Ajit Seal. It was Dilip Tamuly who for the first time took over the charge of the Graphics Department, (he was also the first one to hold the print making exhibition in the region in 1981in the state art gallery in Guwahati along with Golap Chakravarty) and brought in the needed momentum in the genre of printmaking not only in the state but also the entire region as many student started coming to the college from the other states of the north-east. To speak about his work as a printmaker, his artistic expressions are renderings with primitivistic evocation, passionate and powerful. Sparked with an inherent energy within the distorted anthropomorphic forms, the works are recurrently expressed in intense black figuring patches /forms/masses. Dilip Tamuli's extensive research documentation of the various folk and tribal art forms of entire north eastern regions has definitely enriched his artistic vision and sensitivity.
Another artist Ajit Seal joined Tamuly later in the graphics department of the college for their collective endeavor to bring out many graduates who are now working outside the state and country and carving a niche for themselves. Drawing from the woodcarvings of “Namghars” the religious institution of Assam and other 'Satra' drawings, he establishes a bond between traditional style and modernist ethos by imbibing the stylizations of Vaishnavite paintings into modernist contents and visions. It is herein worth mentioning that along with these two artists another senior artist, Madhusudan Das has also played a role in spreading this definite genre of art in the suburb areas of the State. Madhusudan Das as a printmaker has been trying to evolve an idiom of his own in the expressionistic mood in the medium of woodcut and lithograph.
The artists who have come out from this department of Graphics in the Government College of Arts & Crafts, and other major art centres of India during the last three decades to be engaged in this field for decades in different parts of north east, the country and abroad are, Rajkumar Mazinder, Maneswar Brahma, Santana Gohain, Temsuyangar Longkumer, Manikanta Choudhury, Nabakumar Das, Lima Anok, Sujit Bora, Debojit Sharma, Partha Pratim Sharma, Pramod Baruah, Khil Bahadur Chhetri, Moirangthem Thomas Singh, Manika Devi, Niva Devi, Aditi Chakravarty, Shyamoly Chaliha Dutta, Upasana Bora, Pallavi Jiten Sharma and others. Most of the artists discussed are based in the region though two of them are taken from those settled outside the region or India. The two printmakers (who are graduates from this department) carving a distinct idiom of their own in the broader paradigm of art scene outside the region are Santana Gohain from Assam and Temsuyangar Longkumar from Nagaland. Another artist Rajkumar Mazinder is also a significant printmaker from Assam (Presently a faculty of the Fine Arts Deptt. in Assam University in Silchar) making contribution to the vibrancy in the printmaking scene. Moirangthem Thomas Singh, a printmaker from Manipur and a M.V.A. with specialization in Graphics (Print-making) from Rabindra Bharati University is another name that calls attention. Working as guest lecturer in Graphics Department, Faculty of Visual Arts at Rabindra Bharati University, and College of Visual Arts, Kolkata, he has been engaged in the arena with a desire to explore new possibilities imageries and idiomatic variety. Among these artists we would like to focus a few to have a glance at the contemporary practice of printmaking in the North-East.
Temsuyangar Longkumar is at present a contemporary British Indian artist active in London. (Longkumar attended the Royal College of Art, from which he holds an M.A. in printmaking. Longkumer is an Associate Member of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers at the Bankside Gallery, London, and has been artist-in-residence at the Cité international des Arts in Paris and the Fondazione Pistoletto in Biella, Italy.) In his prints one can undoubtedly decode certain contexts and motifs drawn from the definite cultural milieu of his native land. He also delves deep into the dynamics of migration (The significant series titled Immigration) and the associated dilemma and contradictions in the human conditions of the entire experience.
Santana Gohain, a known name in the contemporary printmaking scene in India, is presently based at Baroda after her training in the department of Graphics in the MSU. Mostly working in Etching and Wood cut, the process of print making is very important in her work. As an abstractionist painter her paintings too manifests this entire dynamics of print making process unfolding minute scratches, signs, marks with much emphasis on the tactile quality of the surfaces. Experimenting with the printmaking process, she uses it on paper as drawing and at times prepares her own surface using Graphite, pigment and acrylic medium like clay and applying it on paper. The objective of this creative innovative impulse is to trace things beyond the mundane, the facile and the visible realms thereby transcending into the ethereal, invisible and the surreal.
Rajkumar Mazinder since his bachelor in Santiniketan had grew on the desire for inventing image through the process of print making. As a post graduate in graphics from MSU, Baroda, both his thinking process and the process of working became more intricate based on the references he worked upon with inspiration from teachers like P.D Dhumal, Prof. Gulam Mohmmed Sheikh, Nilima Sheikh, Vivan Sundaram and others. Rajkumar, as a committed artist of this genre, has been engaged in making series of politically reflexive texts to articulate, problematise and mediate the lived-experiences of a life tormented by conflicts and dilemmas of existentialist realities. With a profound sense of political consciousness he maps and captures the degradation and degeneration, the alienation and dread, and the terror and violence of the time one is embedded into.
Maneswar Brahma's love for playfulness in limestone is finely evident in his work. He passionately declares that though at present lithography is slowly dwindling in the contemporary trend for fascination towards new media works, his passion for this medium is immense and addictive to which he desires to stick forever with utmost fervour. According to the artist the weather of North east is best for the medium of lithography (using limestone) compared to the entire parts of India. The artists with his politically reflexive texts which are manifestations of his own lived-experience as a victim of terrorism (with too many bullets piercing his body) weaves up some evocative litho- prints in red filled with recurrent motifs of corpse or bullets. On the other hand, Khil Bahadur Chhetri's layers of compartmentalised spaces juxtaposed, unfold a mythical past, a space of forgotten memories, all reminiscent of some un-excavated truths.
A characteristic feature of the contemporary printmaking in north-east is the emerging dominance of women artists in the genre. Niva Devi's series which are very often poetically rendered delve deep into the dynamics of gendered identity which is layered in several socio-political and economic and cultural implications. Monica Devi's work (coloured lino print, multi-plate etching, wood engraving etc) weaving a distinct idiom of her own addresses a similar women centric issues and ideas but she very often transcends the limits of women centric issues to the address the larger concerns of the society. Syamali Chaliha's Dutta's narratives are often dictated by a contemporary strategy of experimenting with self portrait. Using bright vibrant colour and the usage of self portrait she takes an internal inward journey to the self to map the conflicts and dilemmas of a modern day women in the contemporary set up of a highly globalized consumerist world. With her easy hand in colour lithography, Aditi Chakravarty explores a silent surreal world where a lonely protagonist would be placed centrally surrounded by certain recurrent motifs like peacock, fairy, waterfall, etc. But slowly she has evolved into a more socio-politically reflexive mode of expression by creating certain images and narratives depicting the day to day struggle and suffering of women in her marginal gendered existence. Among the younger generation, two artists namely Upasana Bora Tamuly and Pallabi Jiten Sarma are noteworthy. Upasana mostly works in the more psychical existential realm of subjectivity weaving few images of female figuration in a surreal setting. Pallabi Jiten Sarma, (trained in Baroda) has been working in different media such as etching, photo etching, serigraphy, lithography etc. Her artistic world is woven with recurrent images of frogs, dragonflies, caterpillar, praying mantis, butterflies, ants, termites, spider and other such insects, each connoting different streaks of psychical reflections of the human mind. In North East and specifically in Assam, where the anthropomorphic form predominates, this surreal world seems a whiff of fresh air.