The North East Regional Centre of National Gallery of Modern Art at Tripura
The Tribal Painting Camp organized by the Dr. Ram Dayal Munda Tribal Welfare Research Institute (TRI), Department of Schedule Tribe, Schedule Caste, Minority and Other Backward Classes Welfare, Government of Jharkhand was held at Patratu about 30Km from capital city, Ranchi. Hundreds of folk artists and traditional artists from sixteen states across India participated in the weeklong event from 28 January to 3rd February, 2023.
The art camp was graced by Shri. Adwaita Gadanayak, Director General, National Gallery of Modern Art, Ministry of Culture, Government of India. In an informal interaction with the tribal artists of North East India, he said “Tribal folk arts has an elements of contemporary expression by the people, particularly the rural folks who are neither aware nor bothered about the institutional classification of their status in society’.
He informed that the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi emphasised on the promotion of the folk and traditional arts of the North Eastern Region of India. In this regard, he stated that the regional office of the NGMA will be set up at Agartala in Tripura to cater to the requirements of the art fraternity all over the region. Further, Gadanayak urged upon the artists of the region to avail the facilities to be provided by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India through the NGMA Regional office. He promised to take up the issues of tribal folk and traditional arts of the region to be elevated with mainstream like some other folk and traditional artistic expressions in the main land.
The folk and traditional songs and dances with colourful costumes of different tribes in the country are magnificent experience for each and every artist and some of the significant legendary stories are that of Birsa Munda, a young freedom fighter who fought against the British with insufficient weaponry, but sheer determination to drive away the alien forces from his native land;
while on the other hand there is a story about a young British damsel who was charmed by the tribal shepherd until the exhilarating romance found its way into the brutal tragic destiny. Likewise, artworks are being depicted with several folk and traditional motifs including intricate folk arts of diverse genre like the Lanjiya Saura folk art of Odisha, Warli folk art of Maharashtra, Madhubani folk art of Bihar, the Bhil folk paintings of Rajasthan, the Kond folk art of Madhya Pradesh, the Pithura folk art of Gujarat, the Kuchipudi of Kerala, Jadopatiya folk art of Jharkhand and many innumerable traditional cultural expressions of various tribes.
The tribes of the North Eastern region of India are being represented by the Santhali tea tribe folk art by Mridu Moucham Bora, the Rabha folk art of Assam by Ranjit Rabha and Samudra Rabha, the folk arts of Mizoram by Lalhunkima and Lalremruata Varte, Florence Lohu of Nagaland, Ejum Riba of Arunachal Pradesh, Mrinmoy Debbarman of Tripura and Raphael Warjri of Meghalaya. Interestingly, there are hardly any folk paintings from the region except for the Santhali miniature paintings of the tea tribes, which migrated more than a century ago from mainland India.
The other indigenous tribes of the region are bereft of any two-dimensional artworks, because most of them have solid constructs of mass-volume art objects, besides the weaving designs on the looms. Therefore, the totemic figures and motifs of Rabha, Koch Rajbongshi from Assam, the Naga, the Mizo, the Debbarma of Tripura, the Galo of Arunachal Pradesh provide immense pictorial references in their respective paintings. However, the Khasi of Meghalaya is almost totally lacking any pictorial and decorative elements in any of the folk crafts. Most of the utility materials or display structures are bland and without any decorative designs.
Nevertheless, Mr. Lalremruata Varte of Mizoram created folk motifs merged with Christian religious faith as the apex constituent of bonding within the community; while Lalhunkima, a Ph.D. scholar derived pictorial references from the megalithic tradition of Champhai and recreated on canvas with his original motif on Mizo culture. Mrinmoy Debbarma, a faculty of Tripura Art College portrayed Birsa Munda with a tinge of the local environment and conceptual representation of his personal imagination. Ranjit and Samudra Rabha made images of Birsa Munda at the backdrop of Rabha’s traditional framework.
Ms. Florence Lohu, a young Mao artist from Nagaland developed certain abstract figures from various Naga traditions and amalgamated them on her canvas. Ejum Riba of Arunachal Pradesh projected the tribal warrior Birsa Munda as Napoleon because of the similarity of the fighting spirit. Mr. Raphael Warjri of Meghalaya painted an ordinary warrior Birsa Munda with a comparative representation of his homeland version of tribal revolt against foreign intruders, incorporating the common and similar homegrown attitude towards alien invasion.
Although the art event is meant to promote and preserve the tradition of tribal arts in India, there is an amalgamation of both the folk elements and the modern medium of creative expression, which perceived that folk art could be postmodern properties and mechanism that needs to be scrutinised and analysed of its universal approach in creative expression.