The Khasi-10 visual arts tradition

Although the visual arts tradition is barely visible in folk objects except for the limited designs of weaving and basketry, the emergence of European art through British colonial administrators and Christian churches , especially the Roman Catholic Church, greatly influenced some budding artists. time. Chief among them are Antony Canton Lyngwa, Fluentist Marbañiang, Michael Lyngdoh, Mawkordor Sohtun, Moris Kharbyngar and Marius Maiñsing Shanpru, and a few others. Few creative artists who ventured alone without any condescension like Bashar Rai Dohling are the two brothers Tied Sing Roy and Weng Sing Roy Kharphanbuh. Both were also educated at Kala Bhavan, Viswa Bharati University, Santiniketan. Unfortunately, they found themselves in white-collar jobs in the area and could hardly pursue their passion for art. The main patron of art in the 19th century was the Roman Catholic Church with Antony Canton Lyngwa and Marius Maiñsing Shanpru as main beneficiaries. Antony Canton Lyngwa painted the paintings at the Church of Mary Help of Christians in Laitumkhrah and later engaged in the stage set paintings for the theatrical performances initiated by Roman Catholic missionaries and Don Bosco institutions. Thereafter, he had done several scene paintings across the villages of Khasi and Jaintia Hills. One of the finest artists, Mr Marius Maiñsing Shanpru was apprenticed under the Reverend Father Ignatius Rubio at the Archbishop’s house of Shillong. He had done many Bible paintings for the church of the former Archdiocese of Shillong-Guwahati, which included all of the northeastern states. Simultaneously, he was employed at the Directorate of Information and Public Relations of the Government of Meghalaya and produced works of art which won national awards during the display of paintings during the Republic Day Parade in New Delhi. In addition, Marius Maiñsing Shanpru has produced numerous works of art for private and institutional collections, including the museum of the Don Bosco Center for Indigenous Cultures, Shillong. In his time, he was the most sought after artist for his realistic portraits. Antony Canton Lyngwa and Marius Maiñsing Shanpru were regularly engaged in the missionary works of the Roman Catholic Church, while other artists like Fluentist Marbañiang, Michael Lyngdoh, Mawkordor Sohtun, Moris Kharbyngar endeavored to carry out commercial missions and little were employed as artists in various government departments. . Artists like Michael Lyngdoh and Mawkordor Sohtun had served in the Department of Health, while Fluentist Marbañiang was an artist attached to the Department of Arts and Culture, George Belthechezar Warren Kharkongor in the Department of Tourism, Charmly L Thabah in the Department of agriculture, while Moris Kharbyngar worked as a freelance commercial artist. As an artist, Mr. Fluentist Marbañiang of the Department of Arts and Culture has created several works of art that portray the rich cultural heritage of the state; however, most of his paintings were destroyed during the renovation of the temporary museum in the basement of the Central State Library complex. It is also worth noting that the Warden of the Department, Naresh Tamang was a versatile artist who had painted several pictures which depicted the local vibe of the indigenous community and their land. Some of them adorned major state government establishments like the Secretariat and the Arts and Culture complex.

Mainly, the local artists engaged in applied art and confined themselves to traditional realistic paintings, with the huge influence of western style of painting, with hardly any oriental touch or even a tinge of Indian artistic tradition. It was in 1987 that contemporary art was first introduced to local artists in Meghalaya by the late Mainul Haque Barbhuiya, then an artist from the Center for Creative Arts, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong. Initially, many aspiring, enthusiastic and amateur visual arts practitioners, including professionals and government officials, converged in the group for the exhibition of meaningful artworks. The Meghalaya Artists Guild is a direct result of sustained effort and involving musicians, playwrights, scholars, bureaucrats, technocrats and even small art practitioners and housewives. Since then, art exhibitions have been held almost every year and occasional workshops and art camps sponsored by Lalit Kala Akademi, the state government and North Eastern Hill University. Mainul Haque Barbhuiya has played a pivotal role in ensuring that modern art is instilled in society and there have been vigorous campaigns to promote the art and provide guidance to young people to pursue a career in art.

Most visual arts practitioners are designers and applied artists in the commercial circuit and could hardly absorb the potential of contemporary art as lasting economic, emotional and intellectual investments. Consequently, they gradually resorted to the traditional practice of realist art, and some of them derided the validity of modern art in the local context. It was a big challenge to intervene in the concept of contemporary art even among art practitioners. During this tumultuous situation, few sensitive artists were receptive to the notion of modern art and engaged in innovation and discovery of the transformed activities of artistic expression. During this time, few young people received artistic training in various institutions in the country, most of them in Santiniketan. Some of the early birds are Khrawkupar Lanong, Zareen Jyrwa, Priti C Nartiang and Benedict Skhemlang Hynñiewta. The lack of artistic practice and career opportunities in Meghalaya has forced them to seek avenues elsewhere. Khraw Kupar Lanong made a stay in Europe and returned to town; Zareen Jyrwa continued her career in Dubai and settled down with her family; Priti C Nartiang has completed her PhD and moved with her family to Santiniketan; Benedict Skhemlang Hynñiewta got a job at the Center for Cultural and Creative Studies, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong. In the meantime, with the Meghalaya Artists Guild becoming almost superfluous, a few creative people started another group for wide inclusion of other forms of visual arts including film, photography and theatre. The Riti Academy of Visual Arts was established under the leadership of Raphael Warjri in March 1991. Later, another obligated group of Mr. Mainul Haque Barbhuiya facilitated another version of artistic society with its insistence on the exclusive conventional disciplines of fine arts and crafts among young people. artists, baptized the Meghalaya Fine Arts and Crafts Society in 2004 and appointed the leadership of Raphaphang Sohliya and Careen Jopthiaw Langstieh. The situation created a rift within the artistic fraternity and some artists noticed that the colonial policy of divide and conquer indulged in some opportunistic elements. Consequently, various opinions erupted, while solidarity within the art fraternity was unaffected as local artists including Raphaphang Soliya and Careen Jopthiaw Langstieh participated in the 2006 Thoh Shun International Art Camp on the initiative from the Riti Academy of Visual Arts.

Subsequently, the artworks were exhibited at the 2007 Thoh Shun Art Exhibition in Dhaka Bangladesh under the auspices of the Indian High Commission in Bangladesh, the Indigenous Peoples Forum of Greater Sylhet and the Art Club Bangladesh from Dhaka. Additionally, the local art fraternity launched a grassroots initiative under the banner of Meghalaya Artists Forum and hosted the ‘Thwet Art Workshop’ in 2008, and rigorously facilitated the intervention of the state government. The effort was successful with a substantial sum of financial reward granted by the Department of Arts and Culture and facilitated by the Riti Academy of Visual Arts to ensure that deserving artists benefit. The word Khasi ‘Thwet’ means Quest and for the local artistic fraternity, it is a metaphor for the search for roots and the search for affable status and cohesion among local artists. Therefore, the attempt to disrupt the harmony between the local artists has been defeated, even though there are ideological differences between each group. Synod College’s Appropriate Art Event titled “Eyeing Conflict: An Art Exhibition” organized within the framework of the international seminar “Eye for an Eye: Conflict in South East Asia” concretized the camaraderie between local artists.

The vigorous and dynamic effort of each artist is always corroborated by the quality works of each artist; though there are some amateur and mediocre craftsmen who needed improvements and refinements in application as well as intellectual articulation. It is a common phenomenon in all societies elsewhere in the world, but the difference is that aesthetic culture and visual tradition are diverse from place to place. There is no denying that the western world has grown tremendously and is setting the standard for the rest of the world. The growth of civilization and the progress of science and technology have supplemented economic progress and thus facilitated the development of aesthetics in society and imbibed the atmosphere conducive to artistic brotherhood. A similar situation has occurred in the country’s mainstream society at different levels, while the remote northeast region including Meghalaya has yet to catch up with the rest of India. Nevertheless, the inherent aptitude of some individual artists in the region has excelled in the international sphere with personal skill and insight, and Shillong has produced an eminent sculptor, Prithpal Singh Sehdave, popularly known as Ladi, who counts among the best artists in the country.