Art & Artists:
(This section on Art -Discourse features noted artists of the north- eastern region with art historical significance. The focus of the section is to critically review their artistic endeavors and their contribution to the production and intellectual development of art to create a definitive contour.)
Moushumi Kandali, Editor, Visual Art & Culture Section, nezine.com
AN INDIVIDUALIST SELF - KOOLCHANDRA M-THEM
Koolchandra M-them is one of the prominent artists of Manipur who has been actively engaged in artistic pursuits for more than four decades. He was born on 13th September, 1950 in Imphal, the capital of Manipur, a land known for excellence in sports and Manipuri dance, He holds two degree certificates – B.Com from D.M. College, Imphal and Diploma in Painting from Imphal Art College, Imphal and Government College of Art and Crafts, Calcutta For his contribution in the field of art , the artist was honoured with Manipuri State Kala Akademi Annual Awards 1982, 1984; All India Exhibition of Contemporary Art 1988, Imphal; AIFACS, New Delhi 2003; Fellowship: Manipur State Kala Akademi 1977; Research Grant, 1989-90, National Academy of Fine Arts, New Delhi; Senior Fellowship 1977, Department of Culture, Govt. of India. New Delhi; RKY-sana Memorial Gold Medal, Manipuri Shahitya Parishad, Imphal 2004;Pranab Barua Art Award,2014. Koolchandra is presently the President of Arts Society, Manipur which is the only pioneering art organization in Manipur actively involved in the field of fine arts.
His initial stage in the field of painting was a period where the tiny state of Manipur was affected by the Insurgency Movement during the late 1970’s. As a person sensitive to the socio-political predicaments of the society, he expressed his inner voice of anxiety and worry by taking the recourse to his canvas. Most of his works are moody and has an effect of uneasiness and discomfort. The hidden feelings of the artist submerged in his canvas got explicated in the interaction at the Delhi Exhibition of 2002 wherein a spectator opined that M-them’s work as gloomy, dull and not a piece easily sellable. He smiled and responded that his works represents the culture of Manipur. ‘Culture’ here implies the socio-political chaos faced by the people of Manipur at that moment. The present-day Manipur is habituated with frequent strikes and protests.
The visual representation of his works incorporates both traditional and modern elements. Most of his works centres upon the complex issues revolving around the state and the lifestyles of the people of Manipur. The artist belongs to the Meitei community inhabiting the valley region which is based on seven clan system formed under blood relationship and not on occupational basis as in the caste system. Taking note of it, he tries to unite the different ethnic communities inhabiting the state through his series of works portraying the co-existence of tribal people and the elite community of Manipur the ‘Meiteis’. There are 32 recognised Scheduled Tribes in Manipur and lately a lesser fraction of the tribal communities had also started taking part in the art scene of Manipur. M-them encourages his fellow tribal artists of Manipur to participate in the art practices and also advices them to inspire more young artist to follow their path as well.
M-them tries to bring the bridge between mainland India and North-East India (I see him representing the North-East as a whole and not as Manipur) closer through his artworks and various workshops organised annually by Arts Society, Manipur. He first organised the Multimedia workshop in 2008 while he was the Secretary of Arts Society. Poets from neighbouring states of Assam and Tripura were also present at the Multimedia workshop. Altogether there were 63 participants consisting of 35 painters, 13 sculptors, 2 photographers and 13 poets. Same event was repeated in 2014 when he served as the President of Arts Society.
The thematic representation of his paintings got diversified from his earlier works to glorify the culture of Manipur which includes a series of paintings with women clad in potloi – a costume of Manipuri traditional dance Ras Leela and also a wedding dress worn by the bride of Meitei community. Koolchandra as an individualist prompts the younger artists of Manipur to move forward in a more exploratory stream of artistic excellence.
In his recent exhibition at Jehangir Art Gallery, 2013 M-them portrayed ‘woman’ in three of his artworks delivering a strong message of how important the role women plays in shaping and moulding a society. Looking back to the history of Manipur, the two striking movements - First Women Agitation ( 1904 ) and Second Women Agitation ( 1939 ) by the women of Manipur against the British due to scarcity of rice in the state, became points of thematic references. At present, women still continue to take part in every aspect concerning their mother state Manipur. The artist speaks of the significant position that women holds in his paintings.
In one of his paintings from Jehangir Art Exhibition, Koolchandra tries to epitomize the Iron Lady of Manipur – Irom Chanu Sharmilla who is currently on hunger strike for almost 15 years to repeal Armed Forces Special Powers Act from Manipur. In the painting the artist employs bold brush strokes with black colour symbolizing the agony and pain that had befallen upon the state. The colour white on her nose is symbolic of the continuous nose feeding fused together with her long and curly hair represents the character of the Iron Lady.
The artist narrates of the golden days he spent interacting with renowned Manipuri artist Hanjabam Shyamo Sharma. Koolchandra got his inspiration from Eigya Shyamo (Manipuri’s style of addressing a person with respect and the Manipuri Bhrahmin) who set up Imphal Art School in 1949 and as a College in 1959. Every affairs of the college was discussed with Eigya Shyamo and the artist. He was the first Secretary of Imphal Art College as nominated by the Principal, H.Shyamo Sharma.
As an ever active person in the field of fine arts, M-them continues to engage himself in various art activities of the region. As the year pass by he spends his leisure time in recreational activities like gardening and photography.
( Moirangthem Monali holds Master Degree from University of Hyderabad in Art History and is currently pursuing PhD at Assam University, Silchar.)