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Moushumi Kandali.
Date of Publish: 2015-12-20

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)




It was the evening of 21st April, 2002. A month long retrospective exhibition of the entire art works of the artist Shobha Brahma was held in the art gallery of Kala Khetra at  Guwahati in Assam. An evening of ‘Meet the Artist’ was also held with  fellow-artists, art critics, art connoisseurs and spectators  who gathered in the gallery space  to interact with the artist.  It was on this very  day on 21st April  where the gathering had a  vibrant discussion about the  art of Shobha Brahma in particular and modern art in general while interacting with him. Suddenly a spectator questioned the artist—why his canvasses are mostly filled with  a recurrent figure—that of a  woman figure , a figure which is sensuous,  voluptuous and overwhelming in nature ?  He further questioned if the artist  is obsessed with women figuration because of his  pre-disposition for  beauty and sensuousness of women ? The artist paused for some time and then replied --  “the being of an woman is a site of power and strength. I draw  my  inspiration from this site of inexhaustible energy.”

If one critically observes the women figurations by Shobha Brahma  with in depth understanding about the cultural milieu  of the artist,  one can perhaps find the answer to this question and realise why Shobha Brahma’s artistic vision is predominated by such  overwhelming presence of women, women who are monumental and iconic in their form. At first glance they might appear as sensuous as mentioned by that spectator, but they are never  ‘Sexually Objectified’ . Rather,  they are the archetypal, drawn from the Mother Cult where the feminine is the representative of the elan-vital,  the nourishing form of Nature  endowed with quintessential procreative power. For the artist, it is not any voyeurism at play or any obsessive disposition for the Erotic, but rather the meditation of that Archetypal Mother form representative of all the positive forces of life and the world. Shobha Brahma’s art has to be seen as an integral part of his location, socio-cultural contexts and indigenous belief-system. Therefore  the women figures as seen in the ‘Deity’ series spring up as depictions of the Mother/ Nature equation at times and at others they are multiple sites for political reflexivity  which was a very distinct characteristic of Shobha Brahma’s artistic ideology and humanitarian standing . In this context , he is very much at the same plane with another significant artist of time and place, Benu Mishra. Like Benu Mishra’s  political  visual-narratives, the art works of Shobha Brahma also  weave up many socio-political  tales in the figurative- narrative mode of  artistic expressionism.

 Therefore, taken to the broader realm, the  bodies or the figures (both female and male  ) become signifier of some suggested commentary about the time and life of people of this part of the world , through the  distinct lingual expressions of Shobha Brahma. As we can often observe, the distorted dead figures of Shobha Brahma are provocative metaphors of violence. Here the body is rendered as the text, the political anatomy, a site for artistic intervention. Brahma, the Bodo intellectual- artist reacts furiously in his work – “Event” (1989) when his political reflexivity is directed in protest against the autocratic forces of the nation, whereby the subjects are subjected to inhuman torture. It was in the year 1989, when the armed forces of Indian Government had raped the entire women folk in a village called Bhumka during one of their search operations to flush out insurgents. In the upper register of the horizontally divided picture plane of the painting the artist has depicted two reclining female figures in a distorted posture and a huge military boot in the corner signifying autocratic power. The lower plane captures a crowd of crouched figures with their heads bowed, all frozen in terror and shame, trapped within an all-enveloping spider web. The figure of a military person often becomes a signifier of the autocratic power of State in Shobha’s representations. In his “Target” (1999) the target of the gaze of the State, executed through the military General is the docile innocent female figure- the metaphor of the helpless common mass, caught unawares by the sinister gaze. In the background, a nude male figure who points a revolver at the sky is about to plunge into a river. The narratology weaves up a symbolic battle of the target and it’s ’other’, in a subtle way. This is a commentary on the dynamics of power politics, where the State becomes the ‘other’ against the targeted common man epitomized in the body of the female figure. It is again the body of the iconic female figure as the signifier of the ‘land’, hawking crushed, putrefying figures in the painting “Woman with Basket”  evoke a repulsive parody of those sensuous female bodies proffering baskets of fruits and flowers (Read Paul Gauguin and others) that caters to the voyeuristic gaze. Signified as the symbolical site for the personified ‘land’  presenting this  horrific bizarre offering of a basket overflowing with pile of crushed human figures, skull, a bull and beasts the spectator evolving a satirical repulsive parody of those sensuous female figures with fruits and flower (Especially reminiscent of  Gauguin’s  Women of Tahiti holding the tray of  fruits), this  headless female body in “Woman With The Basket” (1981) in its fine subversive expression  of the conventional image  is representative of several other deformed and distorted human figures  in the artistic imagination of  Shobha Brahma. His recurrent motif, the headless limbless figures, often tied and arched in pain and terror, render body as the text, the political anatomy, the politicized site for artistic intervention. The ashen-black headless androgynous body (either the breast or the male organ is distorted) with the severed limbs in “Release”  carved out against the blood red background is another allegory of human existential predicament in the cataclysmic circumstances.


Shobha Brahma, a trained artist from Santiniketan was  both , a painter  and sculptor who had been vigorously engaged in artistic endeavours.  He had been able to create a stylistic idiom of his own, even though a subtle George Keytean undertone is felt.  His figuration renders a vigorous display of strength and force. A vibrant and rich palette, with bold-passionate hues like red and black, his works are built on lavishly applied circular brush strokes.  Though cubist at some distant point, the subject matter, of colour and forms evokes primitivistic and the folk elements, he surprises spectators by his sound understanding of the post impressionist pictorial grammar.  Sometimes myth and at times social realities, projected through complex figuration conveys maturity and authenticity.  In his sculptures,  we can see finesse of execution, great skill in handling the material and fine thematic exploration. Wood had been his favourite material for sculptural expressions, wood being the most easily available material. Wood became the prime material also because of the  deep ,  intimate relation he felt with trees and woods  growing up as a child surrounded by vast undulating forests and hills. The sculptures were more abstract in thoughts and themes compared to his paintings. As if the paintings were his stories told in prose and the sculptures were a series of poem depicting his innate inclination for that Nature/ Mother or Nature/ Women equation about which we talked in the very beginning.  Mapping  such a  creatively vibrant artistic journey , one can recall what the artist Shobha Brahma wrote about his art in the catalogue of his Retrospective 2002---

“On ultimate analysis it was found everything came to naught in the ‘hurly-burly’ of struggles, struggles to grapple with contemporary language of art expression, participation in the national level exhibition and beyond. The earlier fascination for poverty and destitute themes lost their edge by the end of seventies. In their place,  themes underlying social unrest, various movements, women, atrocities on women, environmental pollution made their presence on the canvases felt through realistic-semi realistic-truncated-distorted configurations and modulated colours…”

Born in Bhumka, Gosaingaon, his educational journey began from the school in Dhubri to Cotton college in Guwahati followed by his final artistic training in Santi Niketan. He dedicated his entire  life to the field of art and became the principal of Fine Arts & Craft College of Assam at Guwahati. He became closely associated with the Srimata Sankardev Kalakhetra of Assam, a premier cultural  institutional-hub  conceived by another literary and cultural doyen of Assam, writer and film maker late Bhabendra Nath saikia. He also penned down several books as a trilingual writer in  Bodo, Assamese  and English. Some of the worth mentioning books are –Silpokolar Navajanma ( Re-Birth of Fine Arts ), Bharotiyo Chitrakola ( Indian Art ), Gwdan Uji, Jivon aru Chitrakola ( Life and Art ), Golap Ronga Sonali ( Red-Golden Roses ) , Leonardo-da- Vinci etc.

Shobha Brahma lived in a world of art and philosophy. He would start humming a Rabindra sangeet, a Borgeet  or a Bodo mantra suddenly during any conversation and be lost in a different world. But when awake, he would look around with his socially conscious eyes and express his angst and anger at any maladies inflicting the human society through his rich- vibrant empathetic   art-works.

Moushumi kandali.

*This essay is a part of the unpublished doctoral thesis  ‘ Dynamics of Identity  and Art Activism, An enquiry into the ontology and politics of Identity in Art with specific focus on Assam in the post colonial  period’  by this  author . Any citation or reference of this essay ( or any other essay of this section ) should acknowledge this web site in proper pedagogic methodology .



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