Chennai: Manipuri artist Golmei Gandumpu briefly stares at his canvas before dipping his brush into a blob of blue and applying measured strokes to a dancer’s costume. But the somber tones of blue and white are in stark contrast to the vibrant attire of a dancer belonging to the ancient Kabui tribe of northeast India. The painting seeks to reflect the story of a community that is losing its culture because of ethnic tension.

“The green background alludes to hilly areas of Manipur and the pale blue figures depict a fading community,” says Gandumpu, who is one among 24 artists participating in an interactive workshop organized by the Lalit Kala Akademi.

Titled ‘Ethnic Mindscapes – II’, the programme has 12 artists from the northeast exchange ideas on painting styles and techniques with participants from different parts like Maharashtra, Goa, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. During the workshop, artists are encouraged to experiment with their paintings by incorporating or trying new techniques that they observe.

“Previously the programme also included experimental art and installations. But this year, the focus is only on paintings,” says Rm Palaniappan, regional secretary, Lalit Kala Akademi.

The vast cultural diversity is apparent in the themes and colours used to create the art work. Realism is a recurrent theme in many paintings this year, with only a few painters taking to surrealist and abstract art.

From a small house at Kumbakonam to scenes from the Lai Haroba festival, most paintings mirror the sights and sounds of the artist’s surroundings. And the story behind every painted canvas reveals a hidden individuality. “Painters usually reproduce still-life in their art work. But since dance is an essential part of my culture, I have tried to capture movement rather than static postures,” explains Gandumpu.

Also, while observing the larger picture, one tends to miss the subtle differences in technique and style. “I realised that northeast artists use the same medium differently. In watercolour paintings, we use a brush to spread colour on the canvas. But they let the paint drip, giving the image an accidental effect which is quite interesting,” says senior artist Manohar Natarajan from Kumbakonam.

On the other hand, artists from Tripura, Assam and Manipur are drawn to the detailing seen in south Indian paintings. “Their attention to detail is fascinating as it is precise and intricate,” says Tripuri-based symbolist artist Ujjayani Nandi, whose paintings stand-out as they depict dream imagery.

There is also a stark contrast in the colour tones used. While thick coats of fiery reds, bright yellows and rosy pinks are seen in the realist northeast pieces, sober greens and pale blues characterise the south Indian ones.

“It’s very interesting. The northeast people are very soft-spoken but their art work has bright, loud colours. We, in fact, are quite outspoken but our artworks have subtle shades,” says Mumbai-based artist Shilpa Pandit, whose oil painting will include letters from Buddhist scriptures.

A short trip around the city has also inspired many artists to capture the most striking aspects of their journey like the houses at Cholamandalam Village and the fisherwomen at Marina.

The public can meet and interact with the artists at the centre until January 31. The completed art works will be added to the Akademi’s archives. They will be exhibited in the third week of March.

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