Naga artist Temsüyanger Longkumer rechecks his past and present at Biennale 2018
Imagine gods of different religions holding a summit to discuss the predicament humanity faces owing to its wrongdoings over centuries. Surreal? Very much.
The London-based artist from Nagaland explores issues relating to socio-cultural traditions in ethnic societies, and the correlation between communities in the microbial world and our own. He is showing three multi-media worksat as many venues of the 108-day festival.
Titled ‘Gods Summit’ and showcased at the sprawling Aspinwall House in Fort Kochi is a sculptural multimedia work that takes the viewer to an imaginary congregation of divine beings. The images go by the numerous forms and tongues in which they have been imagined in civilisational history.
“Working with the implicit idea that these gods present different philosophical positions,” says the 42-year-old artist who did his MA Graphics from MS University, Baroda. “With it comes varied interests, politics and lives. You see the emergence of a cacophony of light-hearted and grave voices— agreeing, disagreeing and sharing.”
Longkumer’s works are deeply inspired by his roots in the hilly Northeastern state where he grew up in a pristine village called Lapain Mon district. “The scenic region was untouched by industrialisation and filled with mythological tales and beauty of nature,” he recalls. “My Naga roots have influenced me hugely. I am very attached to the land, its people and our culture.”
Then, in 2001, Longkumer left not his country for Europe. He moved to England to study printmaking at the Royal College of Art at London. To his pleasant surprise, the artist noticed that the more he distanced from his motherland, his perspective about it gained even more clarity.
“I was born in a place where water was carried in bamboo stalks from the forest to the home. We cultivated rice and vegetables, and hunted animals for meat,” he trails back. “There were no schools, hospitals, roads or transport; people lived with nature. But there was magic everywhere.”
Those experiences, the artist says, are always in the back of his mind. “When they tend to contrast with your present, they stimulate you. And feed into your work,” he adds.
He vividly remembers the day his uncle brought a cycle to the village which caught the imagination of all the children in the village whose only brush with modernity was watching a speck of a train whistling by down below.
Longkumer’s installation at the second venue, the Pepper House which is not too far from Aspinwall, is Kerala-centric. It stands as a symbol of hope after the August floods that ravaged the southern coastal state.
‘Catch a Rainbow II’ attempts to make a rainbow that is visible both during night and day. The work, he says, also symbolises a recent Supreme Court ruling against the IPC’s Section377 that criminalised homosexuality.
The artist’s third work at the Biennale is showcased at MAPS Projects and is titled ‘Aye Aye my Suntanned Lullaby’. It is once again an offshoot of Longkumer’s nostalgia for home. This time, though, he blends with it the rituals, tradition and the politics of Nagaland.
The video installation is set in a Morung — a kind of bachelor’s dormitory for the village youth. “Young boys at the age of six or seven remained there till they married and set up their own independent house,” explains Longkumer.
The artist captures the community’s drumming practice. From this unique vantage point, through the filter of a disappearing culture based on local wisdom, the viewer is able to see passersby and glimpses of military occupation of the region by the State.