The hills of Mizoram are full of stories and tales whispered into the ears of little children at bedtime by their grandparents through the generations. A mix of traditional values and a bit of magic, the folktales of Mizoram were scripted to awaken the curiosity of little children and bury deep in their hearts good morals and traditions.
It is these stories, which they heard as little children, that inspired the eight artists who displayed their works of art at the Mizo Folktales exhibition. This exhibition at Donum Dei restaurant in Dawrpui Vengthar is the first exhibition in Mizoram focusing on folktales and was curated by Rinawmi KC.
Rinawmi has worked across design and art disciplines on various projects from product to visual art and fashion.
The exhibition had eight of the exhibitor’s puan’s or mekhalas, where each one carried a tale in their looms, “No one has yet experimented with displaying folktales on puan, I see this as wearable art with the puan as the medium. I came up with the designs to go with the exhibition’s theme. I hope this will help promote the beloved puan among younger generations and promote our cultures and traditions through these stories.”
She described how one of her puans, which displayed a string of vertical eyes, was about the folklore of Chawngtinlerhi, saying, “In the story, Chawngtinlerhi, a human, married the King of the Lasi (nymph or forest spirits). She wept each day as she missed her past life and her family, so the Lasi’s turned her eyes vertically so she would not cry anymore.”
Another art piece of Rinawmi on display was a blue puan with fish scales depicting the legendary ‘Thaichhawni nu’ from the story of Mauruangi where a young girl’s mother is killed by her father and turns into a giant catfish known as Thawchhawinu nu.
Rinawmi commented on the exhibition saying, “This exhibition brings diverse practitioners with individual subjective take on Mizo folklores, myths and stories, orally passed down from generation to generation. With hardly any written stories, each tale differs slightly from one teller to another. The exhibition is an extension of each artists’ interpretation of the stories as they recall them. Spirituality and the mountains were a major influence in the stories, tales of mythical beings, beautiful women in history, distinguished hunters “Pasaltha” and even tales of the afterlife “Pialral”. This contemporary view of oral narratives by artists perhaps can help us critically think about the oral and the written.”
On why she chose folktales as the theme, she told EastMojo, “Because our folktales are dying and we want to remember the stories our parents and grandparents told us. We want to revive the folklores, legends and myths.”
The exhibitor met the eight artists she worked with at a training program organised by Art Novelty in 2022. After the training program, they created a Whatsapp group and became close companions with a shared love of art.
One of the artists whose work was on display, Samuel Lallawmzuala has been painting ever since his hand could hold a paintbrush. He chose the story of Lalruanga as his muse, “I choose this story Lalruanga as it was my childhood favourite Mizo folktale which my grandmother used to tell me as a bedtime story. It made me live in a world of my own, with magic and fictional things, which I believe this particular folktale does have a huge impact on my art, my love for unrealistic things, a child’s creative imagination, a fantasy of a person,” he told EastMojo.
It took him over two weeks to complete the three paintings he had on display, “So I painted a three-piece based on the story of Lalruanga, two small paintings, and a bigger painting (77×60). It is an illustrative painting highlighting the different characters in the story of Lalruanga and their connection which the white thread in the painting portrays. Each character has their own interesting story. Before I painted it, I first had a rough sketch of what I wanted to paint but changed some things later and I also added other details afterwards. The smaller piece with the title: Lalruanga fanu, is a portrait of Lalruanga’s daughter but her name wasn’t mentioned in the story. The beads are called ‘Kelsaithi’ which her father Lalruanga brought home from his friend ‘keichala’s’ village.”
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The last art on display is a powerful image of a girl and a tiger, depicting the keimi, or beings that can take the form of tigers. While Samuel recollected the folktales narrated to him by his grandmother, the artist of Keimi, Faro Chuausailova has his mother to credit.
Faro told EastMojo: “In my childhood, I listened to a lot of folktales, usually from my mother, and story books. Chawngtinlerhi, Chawngchilhi, which I also painted, Zawlpala & Tualvungi, Sichangneii etc. I chose Chawngtinlerhi because I love her story, and I wanted my painting to radiate a dominant strong energy. So to me Chawngtinlerhi fits the energy. I worked on it for three months and touched on other work in between. At first I was not sure how it would turn out, artists usually are critical about their art because we focus on its defects. But I grew to appreciate it and now I think I am going to miss having it in my room.”
On the importance of folktales in the art scene, he said, “To me, these folktales have a huge impact and contribution in art because they show our culture’s beauty and uniqueness. And as Mizo artists, I think we should own them and let people know that this is us, and this is ours.”
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