The refined custom of afternoon tea is a wonderful way to take a respite from the hectic pace of today’s busy world. When you put art in the mix, what you get is a perfect plan. 

At Locàl-é-tea, nestled on the third floor in City Centre Mall, Guwahati, afternoon tea doesn’t get prettier than this as the artworks on display take centre stage. Loose hand-rolled-leaf tea is served in fine chinaware – the blends are as fresh as can be – completed with the tables dressed with beautiful handcrafted bamboo mats procured from local artisans from the North-East region and tea time accoutrements. 

Wood and bamboo furniture are lit up by handmade lamps strung from the ceiling and surrounded by books and framed artworks by both popular and budding artists from across the country. 

Serial entrepreneur Vikas Jain opened Locàl-é-tea with the mission to create a harmonious place of experience, community, and education centred on tea and art. When we visited the teahouse for the second time in the last three weeks, it was brimming with tea and art enthusiasts from all of North East India and beyond.

Whispers of awe and love for artistic mystery and perfection fill the air. One could tell that this was a gathering of a crowd in love with the purity and complexity of modified cubic art narratives.

Art Chronicles, Guwahati’s first art appreciation-cum-sale event, is now in its second phase beginning on December 11. The phase which will run through December 23 continues with displays of late MF Husain’s (Maqbool Fida Husain) limited edition signed serigraphs. The current series on display are world famous Gaja Gamini and Paris Suite, along with several assorted prints, while the first edition had the Ashta Vinayak series. As one of the most inspirational artists of Indian origin to grace the face of the earth, Husain’s works have become a sought-of priceless collection. If there’s anyone who has enough of them to put on exhibition, it is none other than art collector and curator Rajeev Menon. 

Menon is one man who has transformed his passions into an inspiration for art lovers all over the world. Menon today has a collection of over 1,800 originals and signed limited editions from artists all over the globe. His collection includes originals of SH Raza and post millennial contemporary artists, put together in a creative space, with support and a sustainable model for new age artists.

Menon shared a special bond with Husain during the artist’s lifetime. Today, he shares that bond with Husain’s son Shafaat Husain, who expressed pride and deep emotion seeing his father’s most-prized serigraphs and prints on display once more. “I can’t begin to express the joy that I feel that Menon has decided to give the public access to these treasures. It’s also been an exciting event so far. A lot of art lovers and collectors have shown up as well and the love has been overwhelming. I’m also glad because this honours my late father’s legacy in a significant way,” he says.

The launch witnessed the gracious presence of Devashish Sharma, Commissioner, Guwahati Municipal Corporation and Dilip Tamuly, renowned graphic artist, among other prominent personalities of the state.

Hosting the exhibition at a top teahouse also affords attendees the dream winter holidays with delicious food and tea cups making the rounds. This cafe’s menu changes seasonally depending on what’s growing, keeping in line with the brand’s ethos of using responsibly sourced produce. English Tea Sandwiches, Koldil Chops, Scotch Eggs, and Vietnamese Spring Roll top the best-seller list. Our table was laid with soft Hot Scones served with fresh Hajo cream, local sweet preserves and lemon curd. Pita Pocket Sandwiches lined with hummus and tzatziki with a filling of your choice (we loved the beetroot chops), alongside pickled bell peppers, onions, carrot, and crisp lettuce were deliciously satisfying. Not to forget the tea. The delicate Sohryngkham Khasi Highland, sourced from Organic Orthodox Estate in Sharawn, Meghalaya, with honey, caramel, and sweet floral notes was rejuvenating. Another highlight – the Kashmiri Kahwa Green Tea perfumed with spices and saffron – makes a great choice to stay warm in the cold weather.

The art appreciation-cum-sale exhibition is first of its kind in Guwahati and the entire Northeast India where art is now witnessing a resurgence. Art Chronicles has continued to live up to expectation – attracting buyers from all across the state and region. During the first phase, we spoke to one buyer who passionately showed his admiration for Husain’s works and couldn’t express his pride after a number of successful bids. “Art is so much more than decoration. I have always admired Husain. Owning an original made by the hands of the legend is nothing but a valuable treasure. I bought three paintings from the Ashta Vinayak series,” he chuckles.

Another buyer who bought two paintings from the same series and one from Gaja Gamini underscored the uniqueness of Husain’s works. “When I got to know about this exhibition, I could not help but visit immediately to see for myself what’s in store for me. Gaja Gamini and Ashta Vinayak are two globally acclaimed Husain’s works and I am happy and proud to now own a few of the originals. I shall display these at my home and office. I may even venture into art trading eventually,” he adds.

Starting at Rs 35,000 and rising to as high as Rs 5.5 lakh, Husain’s works are limited, attracting a lot of value as they move from one owner to another. As the chief curator and exhibitor Menon says, “The works on display, especially the limited editions, were commissioned by the late Husain. As you’ve seen, each of the pieces are signed and numbered by the artist and are of immense value whether as a point of attraction in your home or office or even as an investment. You can’t go wrong with such timeless pieces.”

Another crucial pillar in this mix – the teahouse owner, Jain – whose love for art and passion to build a community of artists is driving him involvement in the event says, “For us to build the next generation of artists, we need to motivate the younger generation; to inspire them and help them learn by showcasing the works of famous artists. Today, it’s the legendary Husain; tomorrow it could be someone else. But this is something that has surely come to stay,” he says.

Art, as a concept and industry, has not yet become mainstream in places like Guwahati. While there are sparks and glimmers, events like this one are important to help residents appreciate not just the history, creativity and imagery of art, but also the economic value it can have on individuals and communities. As Husain’s art has shown overtime, the best art pieces should have meaning that people can relate to. The Ashta Vinayak series, for instance, is a depiction of the eighth pilgrimage of the Hindu pantheon’s elephant god. Husain’s Ashta Vinayak transcends thoughtfulness, spirituality and godly playfulness using modern expressionism and modified horizontal cubism.

On the other hand is Gaja Gamini, one of Husain’s later works. Through this series, the late Husain brings to fore his constant search for his mother expressed in the feminine force by his representation of faceless feminine figures. This blend of cubism and abstract expressionism is inspired by the Indian diva Madhuri Dixit.

There are many tales to tell about Husain’s work ethic and attention to detail. It is said that he booked an entire theatre in the UAE just to see the Bollywood movie ‘Aaja Nachle’. He is also said to have seen ‘Hum Apke Hai Kaun’ as much as 67 times just to get a clear picture of his subjects and themes. This says a lot about not just the man, but also about the value and attention he put to his work. The third phase of the event begins immediately after this round on December 24 and will run through January 9, bringing to an end an enriching season of art, tea and networking in the heart of North East India. Menon says that one can expect Husain’s legendary works such as Mughal-e-azam, Japanese Horse, Mother and Child, and other popular prints on display.

Event details:

Exhibition: Art Chronicles: Limited signed serigraphs of MF Husain

Date: November 26 – January 09

Venue: Locàl-è-tea, 3rd Floor, City Centre Mall, Guwahati

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