Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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Imphal-based Kabui Artist Talks about What Inspires Him, Styles and Themes, Government Support and the Idea of Togetherness in Art

To cut the dull moments in Imphal art can be an outlet not only for the artist but also admirers of this mentally rejuvenating pastime. Here we have R.K. Lakhi Kant in conversation with Gandumpu Golmei, a well-known artist in Imphal’s art circles, whose theme centres round Manipur’s beautiful identity, to capture which he travels with friends each weekend or holiday to some of the most natural and scenic spots associated with this region.


Lakhi Kant: How does art engage the common man?

Gandumpu Golmei: When I started painting at art school my family advised me not to go any further as those who become artists go crazy they thought. But nowadays parents have a lot of information on the internet, are educated and well-read and like to send their children for art tuitions. The latest trend is to keep drawing and art classes at the schools. Art exhibitions and competitions for students are held frequently these days and guardians are interested in these for their wards.

Lakhi Kant: Do you also take tuitions for children?

Gandumpu at Laipharock

Gandumpu Golmei: Personally I don’t do it though many people come to me. It’s a completely different aspect of art. My ambition is to paint Manipuri themes for art lovers. I like cultural exposition in my paintings along with landscape, spot painting, performing arts and the natural beauty of Manipur.

There are others who have chosen to convey their talent in earning money by way of commercial paintings or commissioned works.

Lakhi Kant: What is your inclination towards?

Gandumpu Golmei: The artists pick their subjects according to their liking. My interest is in Manipuriness and Manipur’s distinct art form. I like to enjoy freedom in my occupation. Teaching children would take all my time and take me away from my inner response to art.

Lakhi Kant: What is the impulse that carried you towards art?

Gandumpu Golmei: We, including my many seniors and artist friends, went into art as we wanted to know about it. But later when we trained we found there are no avenues or chances for exhibiting our works. Age caught up, we had family and household responsibilities, and our creativity was compromised to the need to survive. With less earnings we couldn’t go hungry. Sometimes we are pushed to art sans creativity. The government has some amount of enthusiasm with awards and State Kala Akademi exhibitions, but many times artists and their works have no visibility.

Outside the state there are private and commercial galleries which give even employment to good artists. Here that’s missing. Usually artists are struggling and in hardship.

Lakhi Kant: If art is missing in the city, how do we find aesthetic taste?

Gandumpu Golmei: On the internet. Even we look for good art and literature on artists on the web. In Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata there are modern art galleries. But since that’s missing here a good option is the internet. We also converse with senior artists, especially in lean periods. Apart from that not much is available.

Lakhi Kant: What kind of paintings do people like?

Gandumpu Golmei: Usually they comment during our exhibitions wondering what is there in the painting to appreciate. They don’t appreciate paintings on suffering humanity in Manipur, social themes, social disorder or fraternity. Art which has a voice is not liked by them. They usually go away without having a look.

Lakhi Kant: A lot of your paintings are at outdoor sites? How do you pick those sites?

Gandumpu Golmei: We study first which place is scenic, a little different from others and evinces a feeling of love or doesn’t do that. We get a broad idea first. Initially we used to go without a plan and end up coming back without painting. Nowadays we decide whether we are going to Moirang or Bishnupur etc. Sometimes we find a place as late as noon and set up our equipment there. It’s not that we are sure we’ll find a nice spot.

Lakhi Kant: How many of you tour together?

The artist’s impression of Purum Lital Makhong

Gandumpu Golmei: Usually there are four of us and some girls also join us. Last time only two of us went. We leave around 5 am in the morning, usually on weekends and holidays.

Lakhi Kant: Do you feel your painting is better than real life sometimes?

Gandumpu Golmei: Not much of that. I study a lot to envision the depiction. Sometimes I cannot match the intensity of a dance movement and am not satisfied as what I have in mind does not transmit to what I’m doing with my hands. At these times I do more study and try to capture the Manipuriness I was talking about earlier.

Lakhi Kant: Do you find inspiration in social media?

Gandumpu Golmei: Social media for Manipur is No. 1. Before the age of social media we wanted to go for exhibitions and competitions in the Indian cities but found it difficult to self-sponsor. Social media is a great gift. Most of the people who contact me to see my paintings or to interview me find out about myself from social media only. People from all over India and abroad found me on social media.

Lakhi Kant: Which themes appeal to you?

Gandumpu Golmei: During lockdown I did a few paintings on barricades at the main roads and localities. Themes like cultivation, phums in the Loktak Lake, the beauty of Bishnupur, Toubul, Moirang, Sendra or Andro which we visited just yesterday. The beautiful Maring khul on the way or those spots towards Sekmai. If Manipur develops its tourist spots there will be no poverty in Manipur.

In comparison to what I saw outside the state, I find Manipur has some unique scapes which can be identified only with it. I may be exaggerating (heh heh) but wherever I went in Manipur I found beautiful spots.

Lakhi Kant: What about portraits? Are you into them?

Gandumpu Golmei: I don’t do too many of them, although I know how to draw. There are many subjects, like portrait, abstract, semi-abstract, concept etc. Portrait goes deep. I have been doing copies where I use someone’s photo to paint a likeness. In portrait the symbolic likeness has to be there so one recognises the face as that of a Kabui, Meitei, Tangkhul etc. Portraits convey this recognition without having to verbally mention it.

Lakhi Kant: What about still models?

Gandumpu Golmei: We used to get models while we were under training. We had monthly classes called live study. Afterwards we never got a chance. It is standard to have nude or semi-nude models during painting study, but in Manipur people might take you otherwise if you do it.

Usually an artist with experience of nude knows more than others. He knows structure, texture, movement, muscle, and figure in the bare. We do find uploads on Youtube for study.

Lakhi Kant: What’s your favourite?

Gandumpu Golmei: I do semi-abstract. There are others who are into abstract, commercial, hyper realistic etc. My teacher taught me that, for instance, seeing a table may remind you of your father, or even an enemy who used that table, so that you feel like crying, angry or funny with the same subject. The idea is to provoke a particular emotion in the painting by changing sometimes, for instance, the shape and size of the object.

Lakhi Kant: Comment on pluralism in art.

Gandumpu Golmei: Pluralism or even surrealism, I feel, has been less studied in Manipur. In the present generation I haven’t seen much of it. Usually they’re into commercial and commissioned art. Oja Ibochoubi and Oja Gunindro among the ones I know of are doing semi-abstract. A friend of mine, Sanajaoba, is into surrealism, but I’m not sure about other artists doing it.

Lakhi Kant: What themes are most popular at the moment?

Gandumpu Golmei: At present Covid, mistreatment of women, environmental degradation, cruelty to animals, climate and suffering are popular subjects among artists. I did some work also to relay the Covid situation for the awareness of coming generations.

Lakhi Kant: What’s the difference with photography?

Gandumpu Golmei: Photography, film and media are accepted in their own right also. Painting is an international language understood even by a deaf or dumb. The shades of red, black or green instantly give pleasure to the observer.

Lakhi Kant: How does art give a feeling of togetherness?

Gandumpu Golmei: We have frequently discussed this amongst us. We have Bengal art, European art, Japanese art and many great teachers of these forms are there. In Manipur this sentiment in art has been missing. Manipuri art is not included in the fold by other art styles.

The government can do something to bridge this shortcoming, but privately it will be very difficult. State Kala, and the Art and Culture department can send us abroad to London etc. Private galleries in New Delhi do this kind of programme scheduling. Usually the NEZCC at Dimapur does it for the whole of the northeast. We have a lot to learn if this kind of sharing of art was possible in Manipur too.

Lakhi Kant: Any emphasis on the Christmas and New Year’s season?

Gandumpu Golmei: I don’t see much of that and I haven’t personally also done anything on those lines. There are some artists who try to convey the spirit behind Leikai festivities etc., but usually its commissioned work. As a movement of this kind in Manipur, as far as I know, it has not been very popular with artists.

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