While it is true that Northeast India is a treasure trove of all sorts of artists, it is also true that many people lack the understanding of art in any form, be it writing, painting, or sculpting. And so, it is not surprising that it is difficult for an artist to earn their bread and butter through art.
Upcoming artists like Arunabh Saikia, fond of art realism shares, ‘People here are ignorant about “art” as it’s a diverse subject. People can’t understand the hard work that goes into a piece of art. During an exhibition, I got trolled once, for submitting some of my work, because they thought they were printouts of real photos’. He is worried about the business motives, with artists being more concerned about finding clients and selling artwork rather than the art itself.
Bipanchi Bhattacharya, a blooming abstract artist shares her story of people discarding her abstract paintings. ‘People don’t understand my paintings. They say it’s easy, but it’s not. Also, I don’t feel like there is a good artist’s market. I have seen extremely talented artists ending up in a small art schools. Many times, they do not even receive due recognition’. An art lover, Siddhartha Dutta mentions his conversation with an artist friend. ‘I’ve found from my friend that exhibitions in the Northeast are still promoting only a limited array of art forms, and the market for what we might loosely call ‘abstract art’ is quite pathetic.’
A painter from Tezpur, R. Das, has been taken as a human library project by Sutibra Malakar. He mentions that the nationalist as well as artistic resurgence has led people to participate in exhibitions held at a grand scale but R. Das reveals, ‘When I hold exhibitions in Tezpur, no one would turn up. I would have to personally call people and coerce them to come to the exhibitions’. Malakar states that with the advent of digital revolution and art software, painters who used to receive commissions to paint are losing out. R. Das is a middle aged painter who is angered by the present scene. ‘The government does not help. There is no scope. No encouragement. No recognition. No money. Most of all, people are not interested.’
An Indian-Austrian artist Keith Hainzl often comes back to Assam, to his home, hoping to elevate the art scene in the country. He feels that the Northeast, or India for that matter, is far behind in the international art scene. ‘Whether we talk about the market or artists or exhibitions, it’s still far behind. There needs to be more connections with foreign artists, galleries, curators, etc. There also needs to be a total change in art education at schools in Assam’. When asked about his experience of art galleries in Assam, Keith shares, ‘I worked at Kalakhetra ten years ago, but it has become a hypocritical award show campus. There’s Gauhati Artist’s Guild, which is suffering from lazy management, and the State Art Gallery keeps renovating with no purpose’. However, he mentions smaller, private art galleries in Guwahati such as Maati Centre and Project Eve work much better than hyped-up popular art galleries.
It is evident that even though there are smaller projects and galleries trying to promote local artists, Northeast artists are still in dire need of proper exposure and platform. Art for art’s sake might still have a place here, but not art for livelihood’s sake.