Kohima: About 8 km from Kohima town lies the Regional Centre for Excellence in Music and Performing Arts (RCEMPA) in Jotsoma. This is where animator and story artist Meren Imchen’s art titled “Naga” is up for exhibition.
In a candid interview with EastMojo, Imchen opens up about turning back to time through his paintings.
“No one actually goes back to the past. Everyone is moving towards the future. But I think it is also important to know where we came from,” says Imchen, whose painting series titled “Naga” tells stories about the rich and diverse culture of the Naga tribes.
Through his paintings, Imchen documents the cultural practices and habits of the Nagas. This includes stone pulling by the Angami Nagas, traditional way of fetching water using bamboo containers by the Ao Naga women, Angh (chief of the Konyak Naga tribe), the practice of giving gifts among the Sumi Naga tribe, and so on.
Experimenting with the traditional medium of painting using acrylic on canvas, the animator began with his painting series in 2019 taking up to one and a half year to complete the series which included 11 works. “Since I never dabbled with painting, I wanted to do something based on Nagaland. So my first piece is the old Angami lady which I started with. I had the vision of an old lady in mind contemplating the things in life and reflecting on these experiences,” he said, referring to his first artwork.
Describing his work as “poetic”, he said that he wanted his works to be simple in the graphic. Explaining further about the inception art, he said “The Angami prints itself is very graphic. It got black and bold lines, so I wanted to play around with that.”
Imchen has a degree in Animation Film Design from the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad. He also has a Master’s Degree in 3D animation from the National Centre for Computer Animation at Bournemouth University, UK. Projects under his belt include animated short films, commercials, music videos, concept art and graphic art. He also won the 54th National Film Awards for Best Animation and direction for his work and was awarded the Governor’s Award for Excellence Art in 2007. He was also a member of the Steering committee at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in 2017.
He began to research the traditions and cultures of the Nagas, as he did not want the subject matter of the art to be based on modern Nagaland, he said.
“I wanted to dig deeper into the past on how Nagas actually lived and maybe through it, tell a story through the images. As it started, it became more detailed,” he added.
Referring to one of the art pieces, he said that field works were conducted to understand and imagine particular scenes, recalling his research on the man-tiger spirit folklores. “It was extremely fascinating. I wanted to capture that moment between the tiger and the man where they are both at ease, and so no one is threatened by anything because they share the same soul,” he added.
With all of the eleven art pieces depicting the cultural and ancient practices of the Nagas, he said that working on the art has been a learning experience. “In the process of painting, I also refreshed or relearned a lot [more] about our roots. That was my experience with the series,” he said.
Imchen discovered his passion for animation as he grew up watching animated shows and took interest in the medium of art. As a storytelling form of art, he said that it got translated into the paintings. “I followed a narrative structure and wanted to tell stories through the frame,” he shared.
An animator by profession, Imchen lightly shared that experimenting with the canvas painting gave his “back went for a toss” as it was the first time for experimenting with big formats, mostly 36 x 30 inch. “But I wanted to challenge myself to do the bigger format. I took much time to focus on the painting but I am happy that I decided to,” he said.
With no immediate plans to work on further art series, Imchen revealed his plans to focus on animation. Imchen hoped that his paintings instil a sense of curiosity to the viewers.
Further saying that art is a way for artists to express themselves and a found voice and tell people what the artists’ wishes to say through art, he encouraged younger artists to define their paths as everyone has a voice and story to tell. “Don’t be influenced by what others say and follow your heart,” he added.
The exhibition was formally launched by Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio on Tuesday evening and is open to the public from Wednesday till Saturday. The exhibition is curated by the Task Force for Music and Arts (TaFMA) at RCEMPA.