“I painted what I experienced; the frustrations and anger which I had kept suppressed for the past nine months. The ordeal that I and my family went through when the conflict erupted are all laid out on the canvas”, said Athokpam Maipaksana Meitei (25), a displaced artist from Serou as he spoke with this Imphal Free Press reporter.
The same anger and frustration are also shared by other two displaced artists, Laishom Rituchandra (30) and Thoudam Hemchandra (30), who also use painting as a medium to tell the people about the horrors and miseries which befell them during the conflict.
In what could be described as a historical moment for the art community in Manipur, all three artists have secured coveted spots in this year’s prestigious 29th Group Art Exhibition which will be held for six days at the Santiniketan Society for Visual Art and Design (SSVAD), Santiniketan in West Bengal.
Athokpam Maipaksana’s painting ‘Meichak’, Laishom Rituchandra’s ‘Puppetry’ and Thoudam Hemchandra’s ‘Imprisonment’ will be displayed alongside paintings and graphic pieces from renowned artists in Manipur; all three paintings are in acrylic medium.
They are among 26 artists from Manipur who will display their paintings and graphic artworks in Manipur State Kala Akademi’s (MSKA) only outside-the-state exhibition which in previous editions specifically showcased selected artworks of renowned senior and extraordinarily talented artists in Manipur.
Athokpam Maipaksana is originally from Serou and presently stays at Phaknung, L Rituchandra hails from Uyung Lawai (Motbung) and presently stays at Lamboikhongnangkhong relief camp while L Hemchandra, who grew up in Char Hazar Bazar, Kangpokpi ,now stays in a rented room at Kodompokpi Lamkhai; all three artists were displaced from their original settlements as a result of the ongoing crisis.
According to MSKA deputy secretary L Umakanta, the exhibition in previous editions only exhibited artwork by renowned senior and extraordinarily talented artists in Manipur.
“The three have been chosen for their talents and also for the hardships they have endured as a displaced artist during the last eight months,” he said.
He highlighted that the exhibition had been organised to promote local artists from Manipur and their art style.
“The exhibition not only aims to promote but also link the artist with buyers and art collectors,” he said.
The three paintings present vivid pictures of the personal experiences of the three artists and their perspectives on the crisis.
Brief note of the paintings
Athokpam Maipaksana’s Acrylic medium painting ‘Meichak’ is painted on a 20x30 canvas. It retells the horror that Maipaksana’s family had to endure when the crisis erupted. In the painting, Maipaksana narrates the real-life incidents of how his 72-year-old paternal uncle Athokpam Muhindro was mercilessly executed by suspected Kuki militants and his family’s escape and anguish as they watched their ancestral home being burnt down.
On a more serious note, he also etches the deep resentment for central forces in his painting, who according to him “stood by” and “drank tea” while the houses were being burned down.
“Instead of guarding the people and their proper properties they just watched as if nothing was happening,” he said.
The painting also presents the horror of narco-funded terrorism in the state and the attack on Manipur’s integrity by fringe elements.
Laishom Rituchandra’s 24x30 canvas painting points towards an “upper hand” that is orchestrating the entire proxy war in Manipur for vested interests. He expresses the frustration and anger of living as a refuge in his own state, confined within a relief camp.
He also resonates a similar tone with Maipaksana’s painting with regards to vested groups being involved in the drug trade. The “upper hand” in his painting imposes itself as a higher power which lurks in the background and adjudicates the entire course of the conflict.
“My painting reflects the daunting question of survival felt by all inmates in relief camps. How long are we going to stay here, are we going to spend the rest of our lives in such a fashion, what is the end for us! Those are the primary feelings with which I painted the piece,” he said.
On a lighter note, Thoudam Hemchandra’s 24x30 canvas painting ‘Imprisonment’ strays away from the conflict theme and dives into the feeling of “confinement” and “being caged in” by daily mundane activities.
The painting also shows an upper hand which keeps humans and their wits locked within the confines of norms and responsibilities.
The painting is a reflection of Hemchandra’s desire for “freedom” to explore the majestic canvas of art and artistic expression. The feeling of isolation and depravity is strongly conveyed in the painting.
Perspectives on the exhibition
For Thoudam Hemchandra the Group Art Exhibition will be his first exhibition as a painter. Speaking to the media, Hemchandra, who now teaches art at UNACCO, Chanura revealed that he gave up painting following his turmoil in the crisis. Thoudam Hemchandra and L Rituchandra are cousins by relation.
“My house was burnt down along with all my paintings and painting material. Since then, I had no inspiration to paint again but the invitation letter for the exhibition recently and my cousin encouraged me to pick up the brush again. Now, I will keep on painting,” he said.
He highlighted that he was on the verge of slipping into depression because of his inability to express his emotions.
“The crisis happened not long after my marriage and now we have to start from nothing. Such restless thoughts triggered all sorts of emotions but now I am slowly regaining control and doing what I love again,” he said.
He is now enrolled as a 1st semester Master’s in Visual Arts (MVA) student at Manipur University of Culture.
L Rituchandra, on the other hand, has had his fair share of experience in exhibitions and competitions. He stated that the exhibition was an opportune moment to share centre stage with renowned artists of Manipur.
“For me, the opportunity to share the exhibition stage with a respected senior artist from Manipur is a blessing. I wish to tell people about the crisis through my art,” he said.
Rituchandra has previously painted two paintings based on the crisis in Manipur; ‘Puppetry’ will be his third painting centred on the same theme.
Meanwhile, Maipaksana also shared the same enthusiasm with the other artists and wished his painting would provide insight to the audience outside the state.
“My artwork reflects my true story. I only wish to tell the people about the extent of the crisis in Manipur,” he said.
Maipaksana is also a newcomer to the scene with very minimal experience in art exhibitions.
On the other hand, the MSKA deputy secretary stated that the exhibition was halted for a long time due to financial constraints.
“We picked up the exhibition again only last year after it was halted for nearly 8 years”, he said.
He highlighted that the exhibition would cover major metropolitan cities which promoted art and artistic taste.
“The exhibition is mainly organised in artistic hubs of the country. In future, we plan to organise the event in other artistic cities of the country,” he said.
Athokpam Maipaksana is a 4th year fine arts student at Imphal Arts College while Rituchandra and Hemchandra study MVA at Manipur University of Culture.