“The heart that beat for this world has been almost extinguished in me. It is as though my only bond with ‘these’ things was memory….One relinquishes this world and builds into a region beyond a region which can be all affirmation.” (Paul Klee, 1915).
Shiva Prasad Marar’s drawings exhibited at a solo exhibition, titled ‘Give Me Sunshine’, at the State Art Gallery, Guwahati, from 25 to 28 October, 2016, are at once inspired by the artist’s roots which lie deeply entrenched in what has been officially referred to since the colonial times as the “tea garden community” of Assam. Marar’s varied portrayal of the spirit of his roots bear prominence in his drawings, just as the tea bush in its varied forms attains creative centrality. An intimate engagement with the artist’s creations, however, opens up an entire aura of life represented through nostalgic allegory as the folk — man’s symbiotic living with nature – merges into symbolic expressions of Marar’s moorings. It is needless to say that the inter-textual drawings are significantly contemplative of life, espousing while celebrating humanism which happens to be the core essence of the artist’s theme.
A single glance at the drawings may excite one to consider Marar’s approach as romantic. Visuals are to be received as texts which require of the viewer to see or know the propositions to which the texts along with the subtexts standout contextually. According to the renowned Indian artist Vivan Sunderam whose works too are multi textual in character, “a self-engrossed individualism in art produces a historical attitude”. An overview of the finest achievements of modern Indian art over the last many decades ascertain a tension of experience which is grounded in our cultural ethos and a language that carries universal categories. There is no doubt that those artists who have internalized the tradition of the modern, and who have grasped their own history well, are able to raise many pertinent questions about self, nation and nationalism, tradition and modernity, encouraging social discourses in time and space through one’s creations.
Marar stands out in the contemporary art scene of Assam as an artist whose consistent portrayal of his own people and a melange of one’s own history even if in the form of nostalgia, indicates the modernism in his approach elaborated engrossingly with traditional folk motifs. These creations are an artist’s commitment towards a social realm which has undergone several tests of time as history has evolved for an oppressed community of people forced to face more misery. Given the deceitful ways introduced during our colonial past, the “tea garden community of Assam” continues to be a marginalized lot within a larger social fabric despite renewed socio-political consciousness attained by the oppressed in more contemporary times. Marar’s each work is allegorical, affirming the resonance of the human spirit, and resilience of natives debarred from what is humane. This is reason enough why these drawings cannot be categorized as simply romantic despite what may seem vividly nostalgic.
A distinguishing signature style of Marar’s paintings and drawings is the presence of the tea bush, tea leaves and the roots of the plant as a part of his visual idiom and scheme. In most cases the figurative are symbolically derived out of the tea bush, signifying tea as central to the folk life and being. Reversely, it is the portrayal of an irony about a freedom loving community’s bondage where, too, life resonates in abundant hues. His figures invariably derive a primitive character, which is again an attempt by the artist to look at his own people– their past and their present– not from a colonial perspective but through the prism of humanism, in passionate celebration of roots preceding the bondage Marar’s own folks were confronted with since the colonial yore. It is this sense of humanism which Marar celebrates in his drawings where expressions of youthful love and yearning, motherhood, birth, the human bond, community, work, leisure and play derives significant unrestricted meanings.
Ornamentation is a distinguishing feature of Marar’s each drawing as what is ornamental seamlessly eases into the forms to lend semiotic cadence to his art. While part of the ornamentation is representative of the material culture of his people, other works derive more complex codified relevance as the artist encompasses within the figures life’s circles rooted to nature along with a community’s faith, rituals and beliefs. The sun, a window through which light enters to illuminate darkness, the Aryan Swastik representing the once animistic people’s moving on in life and assimilation with cultures which used to be external, to flowers, birds, children and even reptiles, finds space as motifs presenting life in wonderful cohesion. Woman is central to Marar’s figurative expressions which denote the ancient belief of nature as the mother of all, while the womb forms the microcosm where like Brueghel’s Scandinavian landscapes and their symbolic interpretation, presents a cosmic whole of Marar’s ‘world’ of inspiration, the cosmic world of his people, of his own.
Dialectically, such an approach is meant at convincingly and critically contesting prevalent perception about a culture whose roots have been far deeper than what colonial mindsets implanted in others responsible of constructing a self-proclaimed “mainstream” defying egalitarian rights and acceptance of what has come to evolve as an oppressed other – a much betrayed subaltern reality of Assam where life still bleeds while it breathes to live.
“Interpretation of ‘social conditions’ and the artist’s awareness of these conditions rarely assume a politically conscious form, and certainly there is no correlation to be made between such consciousness in the artist and the degree of originality” (Herbert Read, internationally renowned art historian). If one looks towards the western art world, Courbet, Pissaro, William Morris is accepted as politically conscious artists who hold an important place in the history of modern art. But a more seminally important position in art is held by artists like Cezanne, Gauguin, Matisse and Van Gogh, whose awareness of the social context of their work was never expressed in political formula. It is only a primitive mind that can interpret the specific social context of Daumier’s third-class railway carriage. The social context is the totality of our way of life, ‘of one’s own community’s way of life’, and its impact on the artist may be through a philosophy or a science, or through even a pair of old boots (Van Gogh) or a heap of rubbish (Schwitters).
Shiva Prasad Marar’s effort and engagement with his creations fall within the latter category or approach in the form of his contact with the traditional, signifying in the process a meditative undertone while deriving an original style, if not technique, in specific context to other contemporary approaches in art in Assam. In achieving so the passion evoked by the works, and the cool symbolic romanticism of this style without pathos is astounding.
For Marar his heart relentlessly beats for his world and fail to extinguish. In doing so even in his urban present he derives the meditative bond with his roots though memory which ceases to relinquish. His creations affirm this truth while it also attains profundity through the universal language of humanity which is central to his theme, defying the ambitious man proving to be viler with each passing day by creating a complex realm exploiting nature and what nature has benevolently offered to us. Therefore, it would not be, perhaps, wrong to define Marar’s creations as also revolutionary.