Review by Hemavathy Guha
November 01, 2018


Blurred Perimeters
Contemporary Art from Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur,
Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura
Curated by Wahida Ahmed
Octover 27 to November 10, 2018
India International Centre, New Delhi

As part of the 15th edition of The IIC Experience: A Festival of Arts, an exhibition of contemporary art by the artists from the North Eastern states was recently held in IIC, Delhi.

The curator of the exhibition, Wahida Ahmad, who herself is an artist, mentions in her catalogue essay, ‘In the last few years, many artists have emerged from the North East and for many reasons have been practicing in other Indian cities. Marginalisation from the main stream of attention for a prolonged period of time could possibly be one of the biggest reasons driving to the emigration and resettling of these artists. She further goes on to say that ‘by curating this exhibition, I have created a collective forum of the artists of eight states of North East India, in which we are addressing the process of alternative practice, perspectives and positions from the peripheral view point’

Many of the artists have had their education from reputed art institutions namely the Kala Bhavana, Santiniketan, Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata, MS University, Baroda, University of Hyderabad and JNU, Delhi. These artists not only reflect the contemporary issues of their immediate surroundings, but also represent many other contemporay issues elsewhere in the world.

Treibor Mawlong from Meghalaya has exhibits an illustration in ink on handmade paper of his village Nongnam in Shillong. This interesting work depicts the crisscrossing mountain paths, village people walking and engaged in chores of daily life. According to him ‘through his work, he wants to illustrate from layers of daily life observation/imagination of a world of people in search for a life, a pursuit of happiness’. Chaoba Thiyam from Manipur is a performance artist, story teller, musician and an independent filmmaker. In the series titled ‘Body and Being’ he has exhibited photographs of his performances in a jungle. The artist becomes one with nature in these works. Nilim Kumar is a revolutionary poet from Assam and also a Raza foundation awardee whose poem ‘Applications Sought’ has been included in this exhibition.

Sisir Thapa from Sikkim works with local materials and portrays the struggles of the common man. In his installation ‘Unsettled Permanence’, he uses corrugated tin sheets, bamboo, fishing threads or nets, creating pieces which can be interpreted in multiple ways. As Wahida has mentioned in her catalogue essay:  ‘Sisir thinks about ‘unsettled permanence’ and deeper connections where temporary provisions becomes an everstaying condition. Condition which further grow through the landscape regardless of borders and differences.’

Bhazik Thlana from Mizoram who is doing PhD from JNU, has used barbed wire which he calls the ‘devil’s rope – a prelude’ as a metaphor to create an installation which convey many meanings. A set of four small paintings of the fence in black, grey, red and black and predominantly black with red brings out the several roles which the ‘barbed wire ‘plays in the current scenario of the borders separating the countries. He has also alluded to the barbed wire being used in the Christian imagery and mirror as a tool for self-reflection both literally and conceptually. Chaoba Thiyam showcases a video ‘Womb’, where a woman in foetal position, resembling a baby inside the womb, is struggling to come out of it. We can see it as a struggle of a mother giving birth to a child or the struggle of a child while coming out of the womb. An interesting video and performance by this lady.

Dhrubajit Sharma from Assam exhibites both acrylic paintings and woodcuts on rice paper. His paintings are detailed studies of the hand and fingers complete with veins and nerves. It is in his woodcut on rice paper and fabric, he excels. Titled ‘Variables Transpiring’, he has printed a self portrait in various positions of sitting, standing or lying down in woodcut and the map of the North Eastern States, which is like an underlayer covering his eyes. Kompi Riba from Arunachal Pradesh takes the motifs and designs which are used in weaving in her state and transforms them into woodcut in a set of eight woodcuts. Titled ‘Repetition’, she skilfully shows the various motifs in black and white.

Throngkiuba from Nagaland works with various unconventional materials like exterior emulsion primer, enamel paint, putty, etc. applied on the canvas alongwith acrylic colours. The amalgamation of this diverse media brings out a texture and relief like quality to his paintings titled Transition, Relentless 2 and Nostalgia.

Dharmendra Prasad from Assam displays works in two different media and both are very striking. In one of the works done on opened up carton boxes, he has collaborated with his mother and has painted portraits of his family, himself and also of his villagers.  His mother has painted the drawings which appear in white. He also displays a tent, which he has built by observing whatever he has seen in villages. The tent has a bed with bedsheet and a pillow with a video of the village life playing from above.  He says ‘this work seeks to create a context in the form of temporal and complex architecture. It uses history, architectural narratives, and indirect evidence of land, where both the water and land interact with each other to become mud (medium) finding out the role of land as an institution in the formation of notions like nostalgia and nationhood. The work becomes a momentary and spatial evidence of crisis.’

Ankan Dutta from Assam recreates a traditional kitchen commonly found in North East. The kitchen known as ‘Dhuwa Saang’ refers to the traditional kitchen rack made with bamboo used by the marginalised communities. In this installation we can find the fire place, a kettle hanging from above, a measuring scale and torch lights suspended from above and also some sculpted heads lying on the floor and hung. Dark and gloomy, the work aptly holds within itself the social injustice and power politics, and the ongoing psychological dilemmas and conflicts in the region.

Arpita Dey exhibits a set of water colours, wherein she also uses thread as an element. The water colours focus on various parts of the face like the lips and eyes. According to the artist contributions of women are not given due credit. Thus, she wants to focus on the subject of women empowerment showcasing them and giving a new direction. Wahida saya, ‘Her works of fabric collages and the fluidness of water colours are the metaphorical interpretations which is visible in the transcended abstract surface of skin and growth in a sensibility of blurring the lines.’

Mrinmoy Debbarma from Tripura, already an established artist, includes comic characters in his works. In his painting titled ‘I Am the Best’, a superman kind of figure is trying to jump from a building while colourful cars lie beneath with comic characters jutting out of them. There is also a maze depicted just like our mind is flooded with these images. The painting ‘Save Bharat Mata’, a female figure draped in camouflage cloth standing on a chair with planes flying overhead, and a crane lifting a car. Here too cartoon characters jump here and there. Humorous painting in an otherwise serious exhibition.

These artists from the North East are breaking barriers and are creating works, which are not stereotyped. The Raza foundation has done a commendable job in sponsoring this exhibition.