By Rupanjali Baruah
Maneswar Brahma’s artwork conveys the essential angst burning deep and poignant in him that gathers upon the images and colours of his canvas – it is a different tale of dilemma as the artist was once in the grip of life and death.
This contemporary artist of Assam recovers through art into a shell of his own experiences that lends a striking pattern of thoughts and movements in his artwork. These creations under the Victim series also have flashbacks, implicit in the tragic context of those happenings. The past is over and yet their claim over his psyche is paramount as he traces those gory incidents as they were going on and he sees those immeasurable wrongs done to him that refuse to perish into a quiet oblivion. These are mostly the artist’s burden and he has to live with it.
Maneswar Brahma has found a way of expressing his experiences and the utterances on his canvas as he came face to face with imminent death when he survived from bullet-ridden bodily injuries at the hand of terrorist attacks. His art is wired to the circuit of a genre that is exclusive and separate because his experiences are different from other artists and his treatment of themes, motifs and images are entirely shaped and determined by the particular atmosphere of his experiences. Though he may not wish to resurrect those gory incidents yet Brahma makes us walk back in time and participate in a parade of disruptive events where the imaginative power of the artist provides a blend of compassion and sadness at retiring into the folds of a different time of brutality inherent in that experience.
The settings in each of his canvases are therefore different because of the mental fracture that recurs in him as he was caught between the cross fire of terrorist activities that made him a mute witness to the whole charade of violence. Nothing can dissipate this fear and as a result Brahma’s canvas is dotted with points of doubt that determine the colour of his oeuvre mostly. As he confessed, “Even today when I talk about it, I am petrified. All my works bear traces of that incident.”
The unflinching manner of brutality has brought in Brahma multiple nightmares with all its tangible realities. So only the colour of blood and the scars made by bullets are indelible moles on a face, there is just a body with bullet wounds and this is the truth of a half and half kind of existence. He invites the viewer to catch a glimpse of his own interpretation of those maladies and death scenes that prevail in his senses, the pattern of violence are ingrained in his psyche; in the complexity of his figures of bullet-ridden bodies sitting on the sharp edge of fear – the unacceptable face of victims of terrorism. They butcher not only the body but the inner world, visibly translated on the artist’s canvas.
Brahma had severe injuries in his right hand that incapacitated him so much so that he had to use his left hand to pursue his passion for painting. There are multiple layers of thoughts that overlap and interweave with reality and nightmare (not dreams). The terror series as they can be aptly termed are inlaid with volatile impressions. The artist however limits his colour harmonies between dark and darker hues and he rarely focuses on the details of the background. This reflects the artist trying to recapture the very immediacy of a death-like encounter where all other peripheral realities did not co-exist. This seems like a bizarre device to carry the image of equally macabre incident and evidently so effective.
The first impression that is discovered in Maneswar Brahma’s art is the vivid actuality – it throbs with the pulse of a moment. The apparent honesty of his interpretation of violence and how it impacted upon his deepest sensibilities may come as a shock as these images provide acute psychological insights. Brahma’s choice of half-length format of figures makes him concentrate purely on the attributes of a wounded body with immediate distorted thoughts of revulsion that run through the mind of the victim – in this case, the artist himself. The tonality is derived in maximum from the use of black with hint of blood-red spots here and there that provide the essential flesh-tones of a macabre kind. And at the same time, the figures voice the inevitable triumph over imminent death. These albeit create a shudder.
The predominant use of black intensifies the artist’s later subsequent obsession of dark irrational side of human consciousness. Black provides the necessary leitmotif to each of his paintings as he was probably sinking into the unconscious mode of a dying man; his bullet wounds become the serrated indentations on the bodies drawn on his canvas. They tell us how black overshadowed all the light in his consciousness for some inexhaustible life-saving moment. His world too is the world of blood splattered mayhem that does not let him inherit pleasant dreams. Brahma’s world has turned cold where the eyes of the wounded slither out of its hole as they had risked once being stoned or mutilated, his muscles and sinews thus carry the great hurt in his soul but he is willing to wait for the night to grow to move out of those difficult days. His emotional anguish heightens with every episode of his life struggle and yet he discovers a kind of salvation by portraying those episodes on the blood stricken figures on his canvas; this is the only way the artist in him can raise a word of protest; his colours must speak to the world.
(RupanjaliBarua is a published author, translator, artist and art-critic based in Guwahati.)