Written by Zeenish Imroz
In My Beloved Tani and Kokoby, we see a portrait of a woman fusing the traditional with the modern. Her face has a dotted line of an Apatani tattoo in the middle and her head is crowned by ginger lilies and jewels from Manipur defining her neck and ears. She holds a rooster with a collar in her lap and has a beautiful green background presenting an essence of nature. This work, among many others, makes the exhibition “Khongool” by two Manipuri artists Laishram Meena and Thokchom Sony, who chart their journey from Manipur to Delhi, at Onkaf Gallery.
“The exhibition is primarily about their journey from Manipur to Delhi. The vulnerabilities they had to face and difficulties and also a sort of cultural shock and yet how did they navigate out of it,” says Neha Kasana, the curator of the exhibition. “Both of them used these difficult times to channelize that energy into their art practice and that’s how their practice grew,” she adds. In the gallery, strings of green flags hang by the roof, while the artists serve food and tea to offer a wholesome experience of their homeland. Aroma candles and music transport one to the place most missed by the artists.
In her work, Meena emphasises on her childhood memories through expressions and body language of Manipuri children and the naive era. In Sunny Day, two girls play with a swing, while another girl picks fruit from the ground, and a younger one is wearing oversized slippers as she hugs the tree to which the swing is attached. All of them wear the phanek, a popular Manipuri wrap-around skirt.
While, Sony in his work, underlines the racism facing the community by clubbing symbols from different cultures to present the idea of harmony.
“I want people to be more aware and open-minded to learn about other cultures before assuming that these people are savages, they eat dogs, or they’re wild. I want them to see what is there,” he says.
In his paintings, we see grass, which he uses as a metaphor for the viewers to feel the depth of things that they turn a blind eye to, and ginger lilies, which are used everyday by his mother. He also uses geometrical designs as he believes that everything in nature is calculated, be it a beehive, migration of birds, the spiral of milky way galaxy, “everything follows a mathematical equation”. Even though he has learnt a lot from Delhi and made a life here, Sony wants to go back home. Both the artists had come to Delhi to pursue higher studies, but leaving their homeland did not make them migrate from the essence of their being, they say.
(The author is an intern with The Indian Express)