Careen Joplin Langstieh did not realise the value of ‘jain-it’, a strip of cloth used as a baby sling wrap by women in Meghalaya, till she had her own children. “It is an integral piece of Khasi culture and a precious piece of cloth that is the first gift to a new-born child from the paternal grandmother,” says the artist hailing from the picturesque state of northeast India.
Langstieh’s art installation Birth— a collaboration with Meghalayan designer Ridahunlang Gatphoh—is among the many artworks currently on display at Meghalayan Age – The Store, the flagship state emporium of Meghalaya located in the national capital.
The installation is inspired by two different traditional practices relating to birth and motherhood while the depiction is symbolic of a Khasi (an ethnic group of Meghalaya) folklore around the same subject. On the one side are the nine traditional clay pots that are generally used to make offerings to mother nature and to bathe the new-born child. On the other side is a series of seven artworks that puts emphasis on motherhood in contemporary times revolving around the jain-it. Beyond their utility, the black clay pots and the jain-it are an integral piece of the Khasi culture.
Birth is part of the series titled Her Art that explores the themes of birth, motherhood and matriliny through mediums ranging from charcoal, coffee, cloth, clay, limestone, and wood. Each artwork, which will be on display at the store for a month, bears cultural motifs of the region and is derived from lived experiences of the four women artists from Meghalaya being featured at the exhibition.
The exhibition touches upon various themes of women’s lives in Meghalaya including the concept of matriliny where the children take the mother’s surname and the youngest daughter or khatduh becomes the custodian of the familial property. “It is both a beautiful thing and a responsibility to be the youngest daughter,” says Maya Lyngdoh Mawlong, a singer, songwriter, and musician. She hails from the beautiful Khasi Hills of the state and holds a degree in music from the Bangalore Conservatory School of Music and a Fellowship from the London College of Music in performance.
Shillong-based visual practitioner Balaiamon Kharngapkynta’s art series Mawbyrsiew, consisting of lithography and woodcut prints, also reflects the experiences and women from her life. Talking about her notable artwork on display, Screaming Egg, she says, “Often women go through pain silently and do not voice their anguish. Through this ‘egg’, I have tried to depict the silent scream of women.”
Kharngapkynta, who studied printmaking at Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan, West Bengal, absorbs nature and her surroundings, making her work personal and a reflection of her struggle to put her thoughts and ideas into a pictorial form. Believing that life is not always stagnant, and changes are a part of its life force, the leitmotifs for her art are trees, hair and doors. Doors represent the closing and opening of opportunities in her life. Trees signify thoughts that go on in her mind. Hair signifies growth of her life, with everyday experiences far away from home.
Meanwhile, designer Gatphoh laments that Meghalaya has a lot of talent but very few platforms for artists. “While it is sometimes disconcerting to hear people ask where Meghalaya is, she hopes that through endeavours such as this, the public at large can get more aware about the people and culture of the northeast,” adds Gatphoh, who is the founder of Dak_ti Craft, a social enterprise that makes sustainable products and solutions with the intention to preserve the rich heritage and adept craftsmanship of Meghalaya.
Dak_ti Craft emphasises on zero waste and minimalist design and is applauded for its sustainability and consideration to preserve the livelihood of local artisans. Her work revolves around the use of natural materials available locally like the black clay, bamboo, cane, natural fibres and more.