Trends

Emerging artists from the North Eastern states of India

Charu Singh 23 Jan 2014

The narrow, neglected streets of Imphal lined with bamboo groves and shanty houses are home to a faceless floating population of underground militants popularly known as UG’s. This is a known and much commented upon fact about Imphal, what is less known but equally true is the rich cultural life of the city despite its disturbed conditions. Especially, art thrives in Imphal and the city has produced a crop of unusually talented artists many of whom are facing intense struggle in their lives. Their work is unusual, the themes varied from reflecting Imphal’s disturbed socio-political climate to studies of riotous nature, stark mountains and abstract depictions of an otherworldly nature.

An artist from Imphal whose bold abstract paintings stand out clearly is Debendra Thiyam, his work is primarily abstract and he works with both oil colours and acrylic. His latest fascination is with abstract mountain scapes rendered in earthy tones and blues. The brush work is fascinating, his strokes are highly imaginative and brilliantly executed, the canvas reflects light, sky and mountain. Debendra’s work has found its way to many galleries in New Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai. Debendra hails from a humble Meitei family, he says, “my art developed as I grew, I began painting while in school. It is primarily nature that has inspired me, in Imphal we live under the cloud of violence. My attempt has been to paint peace and as it is nature in which I find peace. I tend to paint nature in all its abundance.”

Debendra further adds, “for the last few years I have been painting the mountains of Manipur, mountains hold a particular fascination for me. My attempt is to capture the ever changing hues, the shadow zones and the light play across the mountains. I have a keen interest in innovating forms, pigments and textures. The rocks and mountains of Manipur form an endless but fascinating subject for my work.” Debendra studied art in Imphal and in Kolkata at Santiniketan.

Another young artist from Imphal whose work is arresting is the Naga artist, Golmai Gambumpu. Golmai’s canvases are vibrant, colour and movement spill out of them to immediately attract attention. Golmai paints tribal dancers his work is abstract in nature. His canvases are brilliant with colour, his composition of tribal dancers is executed in emerald green’s, turquoise, brown’s, gold’s etc. Golmai informs, “I paint colour and movement, tribal dancers and tribal culture features in my work. People fascinate me as does the movement of dancers, wind, nature and drum beats inspire my work. Tribal culture influences my work.” Golmai has studies art in Imphal at the local art college and he has also trained under artists from Santiniketan. His work has been exhibited in galleries in Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai as well as a number of other cities in India. He is an artist to watch from Manipur.

An artist with rather unusual work from Imphal is the Meitei artist, Imobi Sharma, he works on rather surreal canvases depicting other worldly themes. His paintings are abstract, nymphs and goddesses dance on serene oceans and frolic in the skies. Imobi paints canvases dripping with serenity and a subtle spirituality underlies all his work. Translucent blues and greens are prominent in his work. Imobi has worked with both oil and water colours, he is currently working on a series on nymphs in an ocean world. Imobi comments about his work, “my paintings arise from my meditations and ruminations. Meitei culture and our spiritual ethos influences my work. My earlier work was mostly landscapes but now I focus on oil’s.” Imobi has studied art in Santiniketan and in Imphal, he has been painting prolifically since his childhood. He has exhibited in galleries in New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Chandigarh.

A young artist who is clearly an emerging talent from Manipur is Kongthujam Maikel Meetei. Maikel’s story is unusual, he is from a very humble Manipuri family and he lost both his legs in a bomb blast, “after suffering a personal tragedy I turned to art to support me through the dark years,” says Maikel. Maikel makes very intricate collages, he pieces together scraps of paper from magazines to make beautiful works of art. This takes the form of rather peaceful landscapes, “ I have seen and suffered enough violence in my life and in my art my attempt has been to depict peace and to paint peace.” Maikel makes both collages and paints with acrylic, “I started making collages initially because I could not afford to buy paint. So I made cut outs of scraps from magazines and developed them into a work. However, this grew into a regular medium for me and later I started experimenting with acrylic colours as well.” Maikel’s work has been exhibited in galleries in New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and in Imphal.

A prominent artist from Assam is Ashim Purkasthaya, he hails from a Bengali family in Digboi. Ashim has made a name for himself in art circles in India and abroad. Ashim works primarily with found objects, multi-media, water-colours and oil though he has not worked with oil in 15 years. Ashim informs, “I work primarily with found objects, natural and un-natural objects fascinate me. I have worked with safety pins, quilt, water colour and paper. Currently I am working on graft paper, textures interest me as also objects found in nature. I tend to spin a composition around these.” Ashim further adds, “my art is also influenced by political movements, I have recently finished a series on the protest movement in Assam. Political and social influences impact my work. I also work with materials found in ruins, historic objects hold a peculiar interest for me and I have used them in my work.” Ashim studied art from Santiniketan in Kolkata from ’87 to 94 after that he has been in Digboi. Ashim’s work tends to be minimalistic and austere. There is something extremely stark and simplistic about his work. He has exhibited widely in India and abroad.

A young artist to watch is Sisir Thapa from Sikkim, Sisir is a Nepalese artist who works with installations and sculpture. Sisir informs that he works with things lying about, “things naturally lying about in natural disorder attract me, whether they be mute, noisy, near disappearance, some speechless but evocative, others just mumbles, someone lying in mud, another stuck in mid air…..when these catch my eye and my interest I start my affair with them.” Sisir further adds, “my tools are such that are born in trials or errors or my arguments with the subject. Much of these tools by the time they get developed I get tired of the subject or the subject with me and we declare a work well done.” Sisir studied at Santiniketan and says of that period, “studying in Santiniketan has given me the capacity to like nature above all else. Alongside, certain cultural objects have also entered my work from time to time.” Sisir also studied art at France and spent a year in China studying art. Sisir has exhibited in sculptures and installations widely in India and abroad.


Charu Singh is a freelance writer, her book, Path of the Swan, will be released in March.

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