“Most of my work is influenced by my life experiences—the environment I grew up in, my trip to Paris, vibrations of music, and more,” says Andrasphera Kharmawlong, a ceramic and glass design artist, who hails from from Meghalaya’s Mairang village. Though he works primarily with clay, ceramics and glass, Andrasphera also finds assemblage with ceramics and mixed media a liberating form of expression for his ideas. And now his novel creations can be seen at the Northeast Edit, a new platform for art and design from the region. A unique gallery, which opened last month at The Garage, Greenview Bungalow, in Shillong, hopes to present creative communities from the region to the world. Already, the platform is working with artists from Nagaland, Ri Bhoi, Garo Hills and West Khasi Hills, whose practices span across materials such as textile, clay and bamboo.
Co-founder Priti Rao likes to call the Northeast Edit, a part gallery space, part cultural journal and a part creative collective. With her husband posted in Shillong, she ended up spending all of last year there. Since then, she has been working with a lot of people, hailing from both the contemporary and the traditional art and design space. This also led her to realise the need for a collective platform of sorts. Though her background lies in the intersection of public policy and design, she has personally always been interested in craft. In fact, her doctoral topic was Odisha’s Sambalpuri ikat. “I am also a young collector. Having had the opportunity to travel across the world, I have developed my own sense of minimal aesthetic, which combines traditional objects and contemporary work,” she says.
And that can be seen reflected in the curation at The Northeast Edit, which opens only on weekends for now. For instance, on display are Meghalaya-based designer Iba Malai’s ‘responsible fashion’ works. Drawing inspiration from her rich traditions and folklore from Ri Bhoi district, Iba’s love for nature and traditional craft has continued through her journey as a designer. It is her passion for sustainable fashion and her heritage that can be seen in her label, Kiniho.
Then there is Daisy Christine Momin’s simple and minimalist style drawn from Garo’s culture. A self-taught designer, she loves to play with clay, and create terracotta jewellery and sculptures. “She uses natural dyes and fibres like handwoven cotton, eri and muga silk, weaving them into textile poetries on the loin loom. She’s singularly obsessed with her bonsai and gourd collections,” mentions the curatorial note.
Rao feels there are many more artists such as these, who are ready to be placed on a wider platform for their work to be appreciated. “I found four people, who had studied in Santiniketan. But lack of encouragement from their families led them to take up other jobs. However, at night, they continue to create art and design works,” she says. This work lies in ignominy in their basement. Rao hopes to curate the collections in a manner that dignifies them and their work. “I want to present it in a way that they can see their work up there and feel proud,” she adds. Art making is a slow process in Meghalaya and other states in the region, and the Northeast Edit wants to work with the artists’ pace, rather than hurry their creativity.
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Andrasphera feels a sense of gratitude for the platform. “Otherwise, it is very difficult to showcase our work. It gives one the hope and encouragement to keep working,” he says. “Also, you thrive on the energy of the other artists.” His journey is an extremely inspiring one. As a school student, he often got left behind. And in high school, he was directionless about what to do next—should he take up music or fine arts. He finally decided to take up fine arts and joined Kala Bhavan, Visva Bharati University, earning a B.F.A in ceramics and glass design. “I saw, observed and explored. In 2016, I got a chance to visit Paris on an exchange programme and spent seven months there. That had a huge impact on how I approached clay,” says Andrasphera, who did his masters from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. “Clay is a very forgiving material. If you make a mistake, you can mould and remould the same material.”
Rao wants to make it clear that Northeast Edit doesn’t act as a middleman. “We are not buying things from the artists at an x amount and selling them for y. We want to present the artist. Let’s document their practices, make publications about them and send them out in the world,” she says. “Sometimes, artists here get stuck in a bit of a rut, as they end up making things that they feel will sell locally or in Delhi market. But they are capable of a lot more.”