Art is the stored honey of the human soul, gathered on wings of misery and travail. It is a shadow of what a person is thinking, a small glimpse of what they hold inside. The artist is the opposite of the politically minded individual, the opposite of the reformer, the opposite of the idealist. “The artist does not tinker with the universe; he recreates it out of his own experience and understanding of life. The artist is a receptacle for the emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web,” had said Pablo Picasso.
He gazes at the reality and creates his own impression in the world of colours. George Bernard Shaw had once said, “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”
According to writer, Bhupendra Narayan Bhattacharya, the artists of Northeast India too had a world of their own, distant from the reality. This unity in thought and pursuit brought them together. That which had begun as a group of like-minded artists, has now grown into the Gauhati Artists’ Guild (GAG), a premier organization of artistic pursuit in the entire region. The very foundation of the modern art in Assam owes a lot to this cradle of creativity that came into existence with a group of artistes, art lovers, poets and writers at different stages and from different places of the State. The aim and objective of the Guild was to find a platform, to look for sponsorship and other financial aid, along with creating a conducive atmosphere to address various issues and problems of art.
It all started in July 11, 1976, from the drawing room of scholar-folklorist Prof. Birendranath Datta. The artistes then used to hold their meetings in a rented house at Silpukhuri.
“In the rented space of GAG, artists would gather, work, discuss their works, argue on issues about art, literature, cinema and other things in life during the day time and would join in the collective venture of raising funds for the Guild by working in various commissioned works, painting signboards, hoardings, designing book covers and other commercial works. During the evenings, they would go out to open spaces outside the studio to work,” recalls Harekrishna Deka, a prominent poet cum critic, during the 34th Foundation day celebrations of the Guild.
“The initial years were hard times, we were short of finances,” said Deka.
In spite of the financial crunches of the initial years, it has managed to uphold its vision of promoting and encouraging art. GAG opened a school with a two-year art course for children and other aspirants. In 1978, GAG organized its first group exhibition in the premise of North Eastern Hill University of Shillong. Art discussions, seminars, exhibitions, along with many other activities became a regular feature since then. It also started publication of an art journal called Chihna, a highly read publication enriched with erudite articles on art.
In 2009, the Artists’ Guild shifted its office to Chandmari. At present, it has a building of its own, class room for the art school, studio, seminar space and an office. It also has an museum that houses some of the works of contemporary artistes of the region. The Guild provides scholarships for budding talents (Oil India sponsored Tarun Duvarah Memorial award). It also offers courses on art to the young aspiring artists. At present, the Gauhati Artists’ Guild has over 75 practicing artists as members, both Executive and Associate members, and has trained 500 students over the years. Its alumni include a good number of versatile talented people, who have excelled in both national and international arena and had taken the art a step further. It frequently holds exhibition to showcase the works of the young talents, apart from providing them a platform. Its list of talented artistes includes Asu Dev, Rajen Hazarika, Tapan Bordoloi, Dhruba Deka, Jogendra Nath Seal, Sashi Bordoloi, Noni Borpujari, Jnanen Barkakoti, Biren Sinha, Aminul Haque, Ramesh Ghosh, Sarat Baruah, Prabhat Dutta, Dibakar Choudhury, Sonaram Nath, Girish Bora, Champak Barbara, Pranabendu Bikash Dhar, Bidyapati Sinha, Naren Das, Nava Choudhury, Tridiv Bhattacharya, Bhupendra Narayan Bhattacharya among others. Its lifetime member includes Lt Hiren Bhattacharya, Lt. Sobha Brahma, Atul Anand Goswami, Dr Birendra Nath Dutta, Harekrishna Deka, Nilomoni Phukan and Dhiren Barua.
Dhiren Saikia had once said, “The Artists’ Guild is nothing but an art movement”. The writer had aptly likened this movement, what he termed a renaissance era in Assam to that of the Renaissance movement that profoundly affected European intellectual life and revolutionized literature, philosophy, art, music, politics, science, religion, and other aspects of intellectual inquiry.
Years before the establishment of the Gauhati Artists’ Guild, the Gauhati Art School established by Jibeswar Baruah in 1947, tried to create a platform for aspiring artistes; due to its small number of students and many a hurdle of time, the horizons of the students could not expand beyond a limit. They had to work in a small, insipid environment and there was no attempt at novelties and experiments that could have ensured their growth.
The 1950s that followed was relatively more vigorous, not only in terms of the number of gifted artistes that emerged in the scene, but also the number of cultural organizations that came forward to promote art in the region. These include the Assam Lalit Kala Akademi, Assam Academy and Assam Progressive Writers’ and Artists’ Association.
The 70s provided these artists a welcome atmosphere for growth. Artists trained at various art institutions of India and armed with new and rebellious ideas had returned to the region, bringing in a new momentum, seeds of modernism was sown by them at a time when the prevalent mood was that of romantic expressionism and naturalistic rendering. They tried to free art from its overbearing romanticism, non-lingual trajectory and other lingual and conceptual limitations. They ushered in a new revolution in the art form. The artists of that time tried to critically map and mediate these realities by various intellectual and creative means and strategies, to create a suitable atmosphere for their artistic pursuits.
Then, the late 70s saw some drastic changes in the dominant practice of art and culture. A new generation of artists with new ideas and vision had emerged.
As the president of the Guild, Aminul Haque says, “The Guild has traversed a long way from its humble beginning and its students have earned name and fame for themselves and the Guild.”
Speaking at the 34th Foundation day of the Guild on July 11, Haque paid tribute to the legend of Hiren Bhattacharyya and said his demise was a great loss to the Guild and the entire region. Hiren Bhattacharyya was one of the lifetime members of this Guild.
Over the years, the Guild had been able to bring the talented artistes of the region under one common platform, facilitating exchange of new ideas and growth of art. With each artiste lending a helping hand to one another and supporting each other’s work time and again, they have endeavoured to prove the timelessness of art. As Rugal Deka, a member of the guild says, “There is no age for art and painting”.
Paul Strand had once said about artists, “The artistes’ world is limitless. It can be found anywhere, far from where he lives or a few feet away. It is always at his doorstep.”
The members of the Artists’ Guild are bonded together by their passion, their love for art and it is this love that brought them together. They had introduced the regional style of art to the world and they were the torchbearers of the art movement in the region. They were also visionaries who had paved the way for the younger generation of young artistes. The once students of this Artists’ Guild have now undertaken up the task of taking it a step further. They have earned a place for the region in the field of art. On July 11, it completed 34 years of its existence and fruitful contribution to the art of Assam. The Guild plans to stock all art-related books written by Assamese, national and international writers in the library to help art students to understand art better. They also have plans to set up an archive, which will have paintings of different artists, cinemas and other art related contributions.
At present, the Guild has around 500 books, dealing with various art-related subjects. But finance had always been constraint. It was the generous donations of art lovers and endeavour of the artistes that has brought the Guild to this present state. The Guild’s contribution to the art world of Assam is also no less significant and it has been quite dynamic in keeping the State’s artistic environment alive; ever since it came into being in 1976 under the leadership of Benu Misra until present. Since then, several artistes and art lovers have helped the Guild transform into a strong entity. And so has the art and artists of Assam.