I was reading the Morung Express this morning (Nagaland’s First Online newspaper), and I came across a contemporary Naga Art Exhibit - Beyond the Morung: An art Exhibition by contemporary artists of Nagaland also here, and here. This was a spectacular find at a very opportune time. I have been sitting for days reading old, dry, boring, racist and parochial chronicles and anthropological studies about the Naga that were devoid of the rich Naga culture I have briefly been exposed to. Each of these books did however make reference to the Naga high sense of aesthetics, and craftsmanship in woodworking, weaving, basket making, monoliths, architecture, colourful dances and attire.
My friend Peingam here in Ottawa is a superb photographer, and one of the most creative dressers I have ever seen. The Nagas I met in New Delhi were also super hip, and really good looking. People only had a few items of clothing, but what they had was put together in a very funky way. Montrealers beware you have rivals in the Himalayas! Yet this side of the Nagas is rarely seen.
This art exhibit has confirmed my intuition of the presence of contemporary Naga artists. These works re-affirm what the old books said (not the racist parts!) of representing traditional folkarts - woodworking, weaving, architecture, village life and culture - in a different light. Life Stones by Ajungla Imchen was a very nice surprise indeed as it was reminiscent of Frida Kahlo’s work that I had just recently seen in Mexico City. Her piece speaks of the importance of family lineage and references the Naga Monoliths erected in many villages.
The following piece by B. Ao is a wonderful representation of the ongoing practice of war dances. I would love to talk to him to see if he was at all inspired by North American Indian images, particularly the way the young men are seated and I would like to know more about the other images in this painting to assess if they are from his imagination as they remind me of African Tribal shields or if these are in fact referring to Naga artifacts.
I discussed over the Years with Lui and Pei about the need and yearning to see images and text that shined the Naga in a positive light. I have been explaining that the world is busy with all sorts of struggles and the Naga one is but one of many, and for people to want to care one has to reach their hearts and imagination or else, they just won’t care. Seeing this art has provided me with new inspiration to keep going on about this little place hidden deeply in the Himalayas that barely ever makes it to the surface of our public imagination.