Up close with Eminent Painter and Printmaker (Dr.) Raj Kumar Mazinder
Born in 1965, Prof (Dr.) Raj Kumar Mazinder is an eminent artist and printmaker from Assam and also Assistant Professor, Department of Visual Arts, Assam University, Silchar who has made a mark in the international art map. The winner of numerous awards and recognitions, Mazinder’s works are displayed in prestigious places like the San Antonio Art Institute, USA; Royal College of Art, London; Lalit Kala Akademi, New-Delhi; Regional Lalit Kala Kendra, Kolkata; I.P.C.L, Baroda; Delhi College of Art, New-Delhi, besides many private, institutional collections.
He has been involved in chronicling the contemporary art traditions of Assam and Northeast India and has been involved in research, writing and a number of art education efforts aimed at this direction. Currently teaching at the Dept. of Visual Art, Assam University, Silchar, Mazinder actively engages with conceptual art practices in the region through organizing exhibitions, public art initiatives, street interventions and screenings of video and new media art.
A graduate in Fine Arts from Visva Bharati University, Shantineketan and a post-graduate degree holder in Fine Arts (Graphics) from MS University, Baroda, Mazinder completed his Ph. D in Visual Arts from Assam University, Silchar. Among the awards and recognitions that has come his way, mention can be made of his recognition at the Northeast Art Exhibition Award in Painting organized by Srimanta Sankaradeva Kalakshetra, his participation in the Europe Art Tour as National Award winner of Camel Art Foundation, Professional category winner of Eastern India Art Exhibition by Camel Art Foundation, Northeast Art Exhibition Award in Painting, C.R. Dasgupta Memorial Gold Medal from M.S. University of Baroda, Fine Arts Fellowship from Vikram Sarabhai Foundation, New Delhi and winner of the 1st Eastern Print Biennale Award in Bhubeneswar and Kolkata. He has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions in India, Bangladesh and Japan, to name a few.
Not just a painter, Dr. Raj Kumar Mazinder has also been playing an instrumental role by chronicling the art trends of Assam and the Northeast through his highly critically acclaimed articles and books, which have been well received by art connoisseurs and have been preserved in the proper repositories for posterity. As part of his research work, his thesis for his Ph. D degree i.e. ‘Impression Art and Artist: A study of three Print Makers of Assam’ chronicled the works of three printmakers of Assam.
He has also documented the trend of 19th century wood block prints from Assam, besides penning a number of critical essays like ‘Modernist objectivity in prolific art works of Ajit Seal: A critical overview’, ‘Axomot mukhar parampara aru oitijjyamondito Sri Sri Khatpar Xatra’, ‘Srimanta Sankardevar Silpi Jiban Aru Jigasasha: Ek Xonkhipto Obholokon’, ‘A tribute to Bhupen Khakar’, ‘Asomiya Silpokalar Itihasot Adhunikotar Fehujali Aru Biborton’, ‘Vitality and Validity of Video Art Practices in India’, A Short Overview’, amongst many others.
Dwelling on Raj Kumar Mazinder’s works, eminent Art Historian and researcher Amrita Gupta Singh says, “Artists who emerged in the late 1980s and 1990s have actively responded to the political history of Assam, and whose violent memories continue to enter their work today. It was also during this time that one witnessed a definitive ‘post-modern turn’ in the art centres of India through an active experimentation with the forms of expanded sculptures, installations, new media, performance and public art. Opening out discursive realms of conceptualism, political inscriptions, display paradigms, subversion of authorship and public encounters, postmodern art practices entered into the discourse of Assamese contemporary art, largely located in the city of Guwahati. It is in this context of aesthetics and politics that I will discuss some key works of the artist, Raj Kumar Mazinder. Over the years, he has been involved in research, writing and a number of art education efforts, and is currently teaching at the Dept. of Visual Art, Assam University, Silchar.”
“In 2005, Mazinder, along with Kishore Kumar Das and Debananda Ulup, formed the group ‘Undo Objects’ that sought to actively engage with conceptual art practices in the region through organizing exhibitions, public art initiatives, street interventions and screenings of video and new media art.
She says, “We can take for instance the work, ‘Assam Toil’ (2004 – 2008), which is a series of works done by Mazinder that critically examines the political history of Assam, particularly of the 1980s. The first painting was done in 2004 and depicts the logo of the Assam Oil Company (a red rhino) placed above a urinal (a Duchampian trope) with the words ‘Assam Toil’. On the right corner of the painting emerges a bulldozer, another symbol of ‘progress’. In this series, Mazinder subversively mocks the retrogressive state of affairs against this historical backdrop, and at the same time draws on the disillusionment with the Assam Movement that degenerated from its ideological plane into a militaristic one.”
Singh also refers to Dr. Mazinder’s installation work, “Against Holocaust and Terrorism (2008), a participatory performance based installation which was an interventionist protest against the serial bomb blasts in Assam – the Black Friday of October 2008. “Three actual door frames, burnt in fire, were installed on the banks of an ancient pond Dighalipukhuri in Guwahati and children created drawings with chalk on the concrete bank. The backdrop of this installation was the dome of the Gauhati High Court on the other end of the pond. This was interspersed with a rally by citizens who gathered there to protest against the continual violence. The locks on the burnt doors critique the very notion of security, where innocent civilians are victimized by state and insurgent violence. Mazinder’s political reflexivity is grounded in the local realities of his ‘peripheral’ homeland, but they evoke similar phenomena of capitalist exploitation of natural resources and human conflict in a globalized economy. Through an eclectic art language of paintings, prints, mixed-media, installations and performance combined with writing, research, published papers and books, Mazinder locates his artistic self within the social relevance of art and pedagogy.”
In a recent conversation with mélange, the eminent artist and printmaker talks about his journey in the world of art so far.
- Please tell us about your childhood and growing up days.
Ans: My father’s name is Jogen Mazinder and my mother’s name was Ruma Mazinder. My father was from Nazira and mother from Chenikuthi, Guwahati. I belong to the Mazinder Barua family of Assam; one of my uncles was Mahananda Mazinder Barua family who was a well known singer of his times. So we grew up in a very cultural atmosphere. My father got a job in NF Railways and was posted in Guwahati where I was born in 1964. I did my initial schooling in a Montessori school at Ambari where I was taught by luminaries like Eli Ahmed, and others. I studied in Kamrup Academy and matriculated from there itself.
In the early years of my life, I did not have any interest in Art as such but I remember being a voracious reader. I used to frequent the district library of Gauhati opposite of Dighali pukhuri and devoured a lot of books on Assamese literature and culture at a very young age. I got introduced to the works of literary stalwarts like Laksminath Bezbaruah, Saurav Chaliha, Syed Abdul Malik, amongst others very early on in life. Although I grew up in an urban society, I soon became acquainted with the realities of socio-economic life of rural Assam which found its way in my artworks later on.
During my school days, I became friends with a few like-minded people and we had organized an open art exhibition in Guwahati. I had done a painting for the exhibition and after watching the same, I was asked by a visitor to take admission in the Gauhati Artists Guild. That was the beginning of my journey in the art world. The Assam Agitation was on at that time and while I lost an academic year, I spent a lot of time drawing and painting.
After my matriculation, I took admission in Arya Vidyapeeth College in the Science stream and after completing Pre University in Science, I decided that art was my calling. In 1984, I tried to take admission in Kala Bhavana, Visva Bharati University in Santineketan but could not clear the viva-voice examination. I applied once again in 1985 and got admission in the said course.
The first two years of my time in Santineketan were very rudimentary as we were taught the basic fundamentals of art. However, when I reached the third year, a new teacher and eminent artist Jogen Choudhury came to our college and he inspired me to work deeper into the complexities of human relationships and the urban-rural divide in society. And also Prof K. G. Subramanyan, who guided me a lot to work in terms working with colors and complexities. As I mentioned before, I had grown up in an urban environment but it was during my third year in Santineketan that I got well acquainted with the complexities as well as beauty of rural life. After completing my graduation in fine arts from Santineketan, I applied for the printmaking course at the post-graduate level in MS University, Baroda.
In Baroda, I came into acquaintance with two teachers – Ghulam Mohammad Sheikh, whom guided me a lot to work in figures and complexities of relationship. Baroda is a more or less developed urban space and the development of urban life in that city mesmerized me along with the freedom I got to nurture my artistic sensibilities. I learnt a lot of Indian as well as modern Art history in the classes of Ghulam Mohammad Sheikh sir. I passed out from Baroda in 1992 with distinction and was a topper of our batch. In 1991, my father expired and there were some familial problems at home so I had to come back to Assam. By that time, I had also got a Vikram Sarabhai Foundation’s fellowship for young artists to work in Majuli and also began travelling to various nooks and crannies of the State. I worked on myriad issues there, for instance on the origins of printmaking in Assam, and the like.
By 1996, I had cleared the NET examination and had also an interview call from Assam University. However, I could not attend the interview as my mother expired during that time. I was pretty upset mentally but I continued in my artistic pursuits. Providence has a role to play and in 2009, I joined Assam University as a faculty member and got my doctorate degree in 2015.
- You are an accomplished painter as well as a printmaker. What is the difference between both?
Ans: There is not much difference between both except for the fact that the involvement of the artist is more in printmaking. Printmaking differs from conventional painting in the sense that there are multiple copies of the original in printmaking. I personally feel that since I come from a painting background, I could put more of my paintings thoughts into printmaking. I feel that my background in painting has enriched my development as a printmaker.
- You have been working in diverse mediums. Please tell us how you realized your style…
Ans: When I came back in 1993, a prominent printmaker Suranjan Basu congratulated me for my decision to come back and work on my roots. In fact, that was the aim behind my decision to come back, besides my familial problems, of course. When I began working in Assam, I tried working in folk installations. But later on, I realized that there were many senior people like Neel Pawan Barua and Benu Mishra who were already working in this field. I thought about means through which we can convert some images of our day-to-day like in the State and convert the same into a metaphor. Since I had come across several developments in post-modernism by that time, I began working on a series of paintings called ‘Lost Landscape’ which was based on a burnt pinecone. After that, I started work on the ‘Assam Toil’ series. The series, which used the Assam Oil logo as the backdrop, tried to depict how our own resources have not been of much use to us. There has been no looking back since then.
- Not only paintings, you have also been chronicling the contemporary developments in the art trends of Northeast India.
Ans: I began writing for Chinha, a monthly journal of Guahati Artists Guild when I was in college itself. In 1990, I along with two other artists did a joint exhibition but there were no reviews of the exhibition as such. So I thought that someone should document and chronicle the works of our contemporary as well as senior artists and therein the process of documentation of our art trends started. Wherever I travelled, I tried to document the art scenario along with the help of other people who would do the photography or audio-visual documentation.
- Please tell us a bit about your family.
Ans: My father and mother expired in 1991 and 1995 respectively. I got married to Swapnali Chaliha from Jorhat in 2000. She is presently working as an Assistant Teacher in Silchar. We have a son who is studying in Class 9. I am presently working towards chronicling the art education and practices of India, especially Northeast India.