The Maternal Take on Meghalayan Art
by Georgina Maddox
An on-going exhibition by women artists of Meghalaya that celebrates womanhood and explores the nuances of birth, motherhood, matriliny and their myriad possibilities
As one entered Meghalayan Age – The Store, at the Rajiv Gandhi Handicrafts Bhawan – climbed the wooden stairs and made the acquaintance at a visual level with the art and craft that was abundantly present around, one began to learn that it was not just the delicate and intricate artwork and craftsmanship of the works on display but that each piece had a significance behind it and a story to tell.
Jaiñ it by Careen Joplin Langstieh
The ‘Jaiñ it’ is a strip of cloth used for the newly born child while tying the child to the back of the birthmother in Meghalaya. This strip of cloth has been placed over a handmade pot from black clay that is not for sale and only available in the Sun Valley. Larger pots are often used to bathe the infant right after they are born. A khoh is a large Khasi fruit basket that is also used by farmers to cover themselves as they work in the fields. Drawings rendered in charcoal on paper and stained with coffee are mounted within the ‘Jaiñ it’ and the installation hangs from the ceiling over the pots placed on pedestals.
“In Meghalaya you'll always find a relative, we're all connected,” says Careen Joplin Langstieh, one of the four artists present in the evening. “I did not realize the value of this cloth, the Jaiñ it till I had my own children. It is an integral piece of Khasi culture and a precious piece of cloth that is the first gift to a newborn child from the paternal grandmother,” affirmed the full-time artist.
Langstieh collaborated with Ridahunlang Gatphoh, a ceramic artist and designer (the founder of Dak_ti Craft – a social enterprise that makes sustainable products) to create the installation titled Birth that looks at the relationship between mother and child, through the earthen objects that are part of the nurturing process. On a wall opposite the installation are a line of lithographic prints and woodcuts by artist Balaiamon Kharngapkynta. Her series is titled "Mawbyrsiew" and it brings her perspective of her life in Meghalaya with her family and that which she experienced moving to the city, where she studied printmaking at Visva-Bharati Santiniketan in West Bengal.
The joint exhibitions launched the series titled ‘Her Art’, at the flagship State emporium in the Capital amidst bonhomie, celebrated over wine and cheese with music and a panel discussion providing meaningful interactions. Maya Lyngdoh Mawlong is a singer, songwriter and musician who brought traditional Khasi lullabies from the beautiful hillside where she lived until she came to study music in Bangalore and the London College of Music.
The themes of birth, motherhood and matriliny took centre-stage through mediums ranging from charcoal, coffee, cloth, clay, limestone and wood. The concept of womanhood was explored threadbare through deeply personal artworks that encapsulated the beauty and fragility of being a woman in a society known for its matrilineal tradition. Each artwork on display at the store for a month bears cultural motifs of the region and is derived from lived experiences of the four featured women artists.
The panel discussion moderated by journalist Divya Trivedi and artist Isaac Gergan touched upon various themes of women’s lives in Meghalaya including the concept of matriliny where the children take the mother’s surname and the youngest daughter or khatduh becomes the custodian of the familial property. “It is both a beautiful thing and a responsibility to be the youngest daughter,” said Maya Lyngdoh Mawlong.
Balaiamon Kharngapkynta shared how her art reflects experiences and women from her life. Talking about her notable artwork on display, the Screaming Egg, she said, “Often women go through pain silently and do not voice their anguish. Through this egg I have tried to depict the silent scream of women.”
"Meghalaya has a lot of talent but very few platforms for the artists,” said Rida Gatphoh, who is also the chief curator of products at the store. While it is sometimes disconcerting to hear people ask where Meghalaya is, she hopes that through endeavours such as this, the public at large can get more aware about the people and culture of the North-East.
Actress Pavleen Gujral, known for her stellar role in Angry Indian Goddesses and more recently, Gehraiyaan, said, “Coming from the theatre background, art and culture has always been my driving force, be it as an actor, an emcee, a nutritionist or even as a social-media influencer. My pro-environment stance and drive towards sustainability is what brings me here,” she averred.
Gujral was joined by Mrs Indian Worldwide 2019 Alisha Madan, actor Avijit Dutt, Pablo Bartholomew, photographer Sarang Sena, and others in applauding the efforts of Meghalayan Age in bringing artists with their diverse mediums and expressions together.
Meghalayan Age Ltd implements strategies for the development of eco-tourism zones; regulation of social and environmental impact of tourism; waste management; conservation of water, energy, and forests. Their journey through art and culture is an on-going one.
Meghalayan Age – The Store
Rajiv Gandhi Handicrafts Bhawan, Gallery No 9,
Baba Kharak Singh Marg, New Delhi 110001
Phone: +91 9560396615, firstname.lastname@example.org
The exhibition is on till 30 November 2022, New Delhi
Georgina Maddox is an independent critic-curator with almost two decades of experience in the field of Indian art and culture. She was assistant editor at India Today’s Mail Today and senior arts writer for the Indian Express and the Times of India. She is currently working in the media as an independent critic for various publications and has published articles in Open Magazine, India Today, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and also in Elle Magazine, The Hindu and Business Line, Sunday Magazine BLINK, TAKE on Art, Time Out, and online with US based E-magazine, Studio International, STIR world and MASH Mag.