India November/December 2016: Aizawl-Silchar-Agartala-Jorhat-Kolkata
Raj Kumar Mazinder, Professor of Printmaking, Assam University, Silchar, attended the 2015 Jorhat screenings and on hearing of my intention to revisit Assam in 2016 requested further screenings at Silchar. One took place at the University, another at Beekshan Cine Commune Film Club.
Raj Kumar also arranged screenings at Aizawl, Mizoram and Agartala, Tripura, two states with a tribal past. Mizos like Nagas had been famous headhunters until the middle of the 20th century.
The Mazinder family, Raj Kumar, Swapnali and their son Shom, accompanied by painter Uttam Ghosh and his wife Jamuna travelled with me to Aizawl. I soon discovered Mizoram to be different to many places in India. The name is derived from Mi (people), Zo (lofty place, such as a hill) and Ram (land), and thus Mizoram implies “land of the hill people”. *Sajnani, Encyclopaedia of Tourism Resources in India, Volume 1, ISBN 81-78350173, page 241.
Mizos speak their own language, English, and nearly no other Indian language. Almost 90% of people are Christian. Aizawl is situated among high hills surrounded by clouds and the city, unlike everywhere else in India, is strangely quiet. A no honking horn culture has been adopted.
Difference Screen was hosted by Amoii, a self taught artist, at her gallery Art Novelty. We stayed at the government tourist lodge in the Chaltlang district, close to the gallery. Amoii told me there was no formal art education in Mizoram until 2010 and shortly after our arrival took us to an award ceremony for a ‘State Level Painting Competition on Energy Conservation’. Difference Screen was well attended in Aizawl.
Back in Silchar, while presenting Difference Screen at Assam University, I had a chance to meet with students in the Department of Visual Arts. We had a great afternoon followed by a well attended screening.
Later I met members of the Beekshan Cine Commune Film Club to discuss screening the following day. The Beekshan programme took place at the Rajiv Institute and started when the yoga class was over, it was well received with lively Q/A discussion.
Raj Kumar arranged for his PhD student Binoy Paul to accompany me on the trip to Agartala, a nine hour journey leaving at 8am. Agartala, the capital of Tripura lies on the western border with Bangladesh.
Arriving in Agartala we were met by Pramit Paul, lecturer at the Government College of Art and Craft who took us to our accommodation, Geetanjali Guest House. Screening took place the next day after an insightful tour of the art school with Pramit and fellow lecturer Ramyendu Das.
The programme was shown in an impressive auditorium with over 100 attending and to my surprise I was presented with a scarf, flowers and a large wooden rhinoceros by the Principal Abhijit Bhattacharya.
Following the screening we met senior lecturers in Abhijit’s office. Later, at his apartment, Ramyendu Das showed me photographs of his work Memorial to Rape, a land art reference to Thangjam Manorama (1970–2004) a Manipuri woman raped and murdered by soldiers of the paramilitary Assam Rifles in 2004. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thangjam_Manorama
Two more screenings took place. In Assam, Tridib Dutta organized a presentation with the Jorhat Fine Arts Society, showing films previously unseen at Jorhat on 27 November with round 60 people attending.
Following this, Chhatrapati Dutta facilitated adda (an informal evening) in association with Gallery Exposure, Kolkata, on 14 December. Thirty people came along, including eminent art historian Pranab Ranjan, film maker Buddhadeb Dasgupta https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhadeb_Dasgupta
and Amit Mukhopadhaya (Amitda) art historian and creative initiator of ‘The Ordinariness of Things’. We were at Uma Sen’s apartment, floor 8 (of 35) Tower II, South City. Uma runs gallery Exposure supporting younger artists’ experimental work.
Screenings in the North East made me aware how unfamiliar artists and others there are of experimental artists’ film and video. This felt true even in Kolkata. Anshuman Dasgupta told me the Fine Art Department at Santiniketan is currently in the process of making a film and video archive. Being able to show some of the films in Difference Screen in North East India enabled many to discover the multiplicity of approaches artists use in making their works. It also brought an understanding that the medium of film and moving image is as vital to the visual arts today as painting and sculpture.