Delhi is currently hosting two unique solo shows, by Treibor Mawlong and Awdhesh Tamrakar, at Vadehra Art Gallery and Shrine Empire, respectively. While both artists have a distinctive visual vocabulary, certain threads seem to connect their practices—a deeply autobiographical tone, and a focus on the human condition.
There is also a sense of animation in their works. Viewing wood-cuts such as The Return and The Rehearsal as part of Mawlong’s Once Around The Sun within Vadehra Art Gallery’s contemporary space makes you feel a graphic novel has come to life. An artist from Meghalaya’s Khasi Hills, Mawlong has carved sights and sounds from his travels on wood. Especially interesting are his observations from Mawbri, the remote village he lives in. Similarly, in works like Pital Khana in Tamrakar’s show, Dūr-darāz, one can almost hear the thaṭherā craftspersons—brass and copper metalsmiths—from Shahgarh in Madhya Pradesh strike at the metal repeatedly.
Using his personal observations as stepping stones, Mawlong depicts larger stories about passion, love, pride, grief, loss and change. “(The artist’s) wood-cuts and drawings recognize the dignity of labor amidst the unevenness of development in contemporary reality alongside systemic issues like poverty, lack of education, inaccessibility to healthcare and infrastructure and a disconnection from the modern world in the Meghalayan village of Mawbri, situated in the remote district of Mawkyrwat,” states the curatorial note.
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The artist, who lives and works in Nongstoin and Mawbri, trained in painting at Kala Bhavan, Visva Bharati University, Santiniketan. He veered towards wood-cuts around 2015. “At Santiniketan, we were instructed to make our drawings lively. That has stayed with me,” says Mawlong.
The current show features scenes from the Delhi Metro, pumpkins from his mother’s garden, the despair that he felt when his wife was hospitalised.... “These are everyday incidents that I experienced as a teacher, a villager, a human constantly on the move, and which are very personal to me. There are also three works on showcase from an ongoing series called The Mawbri Diaries. Some parts of this project will also be showcased at the current edition of the Kochi Muziris Biennale,” he says.
The Mawbri Diaries started in 2019, when Mawlong got married and moved to the village. At times, he would document situations in real time through drawings, at other times he would recreate those moments on reaching home. “I would carve those moments in wood with the same spontaneity. These works are the collective voice of the people in the village,” says Mawlong.
Life in the village is not easy. For instance, his wife and her five siblings together plant bay leaves, long pepper and medicinal herbs. Help is not easily available. The nearest school is miles away. “If you send all your kids to school, you are left with no help to work on the land. It’s a difficult life. It was due to her brothers’ sacrifice that my wife got an education. It is the bittersweet moments from their everyday lives that I present in the project,” he says.
Tamrakar’s work too showcases the struggle of the Shahgarh thatheras community. “Maṭhār is the repetitive sound of metal striking metal—once heard so often in Awdhesh Tamrakar’s community. In recent times, however, this hammering sound has grown so dūr-darāz or distant that it is rarely heard as the younger generation of Ṭhaṭherās seek out different career paths and better socio-economic prospects,” writes artist-art historian Priyanka D’Souza in an essay on the show.
As Tamrakar traces his roots to Pancham Nagar, Madhya Pradesh, he wonders if his community’s identity is inextricably linked with its place of origin. Does the fading away of a sound diminish a sense of belonging as well?
Tamrakar, who completed his master’s in sculpture from the Faculty of Fine Arts, M S University of Baroda, has always based his work on perceptions of sound and space. “I have always been interested in the poetics of ruin,” says the artist, who lives and works in Hyderabad and Vadodara. During his postgraduation, he created two life-size terrazzo mosaic tiles in cement using seriagraphy and pigments. One was about the different traces of activities on the kitchen floor and the other was a representation of the balcony floor of the hostel gallery. These were displayed on the wall of the campus as landscapes and portraits
During the first pandemic-triggered lockdown in 2020, Tamrakar got the time and space to think about identity, belonging and their linkages with a particular landscape. Dūr-darāz could mean looking at something from a distance. To Tamrakar, however, it also means viewing the past and present from a vantage point.
Material is extremely important to the artist. “The name of my community derives from the material. Tamar means metal and it shapes our identity,” he says. When he visited Pancham Nagar, he realised that the place was known not just for its metalsmiths but its paper board (gatta) factory as well. And that’s why gatta has become one of his materials of choice. As a nod to the area’s industrial past, Tamrakar has used small fragments of tiles as well. He began to recreate crumpled photos of metalsmiths at work from his father’s photo studio as derelict landscapes. “His deliberate mutilation of the surface and the terrain-like undulation of the creased paper denies the viewer an easy view for there are no easy answers here. As we vaguely make out hands working the metal in some of these works, we wonder if they would one day become as abandoned as Pancham Nagar’s ruins,” writes D’Souza.
Once Around The Sun can be viewed at Vadehra Art Gallery till 28 January, 10am-6pm (Monday-Saturday); and Dūr-darāz is on display at Shrine Empire till 14 January, 11am-6pm (Monday-Saturday).