Design Stash is a cool new design company in Dimapur, Nagaland. The studio is an enterprise started by a group of Nagas who were based in Mumbai until a year and a half ago. Anakito Assumi (Aki) is a graduate in Animation from the National Institute of Design and his partner is young designer Lipok Yanger. They pooled in their resources, renovated a rundown apartment in Dimapur turning it into a stylish open plan studio, and last year Aki was commissioned to illustrate “Folktales from North East of India”, published by the North East Zone Cultural Centre and Heritage Publishing House. The collection consists of forty short stories, five from each of the states of the North East region, and Aki has experimented with various interesting artistic styles for the illustrations. He jokingly tells me that he is now an expert in folktales, and he shows me his work for a comic book on folktales of Nagaland. For this project, commissioned by the State Department of Art and Culture, Aki will use a different style for each story. The styles vary from black and white comic art to collage and painterly techniques of water colour washes. The stories seem to be replete with spirits: Foreboding monstrous ones, angels deprived of their wings and spirits that teach mankind how to dance. The story of Man Tiger and Spirit is well known to Aki and he points out the association between the folktale and a belief in a special relationship between Man and Tiger that was prevalent before Christianity in Nagaland.
The usual exchange at such meetings between people of the digital generation is data from hard drives. Before I leave, Aki asks me to show his team around the fundamentals of Maya, so I demonstrate how to make a simple three dimensional object, set up lighting, texturing and movement and then render it, taking time to reassure the group not to be put off by the daunting technical terminology of the software.
Aki tells me that it is tough to have the spirit of an entrepreneur in Nagaland and he shares concern that the team will find enough work to sustain their business.
The Hope Centre of Excellence for dance, music and art was opened two years ago by Z. Mozhui and his wife, Zubeno in Nagarjang, Dimapur. I was invited there to present certificates at the closing ceremony of a weeklong Art Workshop led by Mumbai based artist, Aditi Chitre. The workshop had been sponsored by the North East Zone Cultural Centre and all the artwork created by the students, ranging in age from the youngest at seven to the eldest at seventeen was on display. It was an impressive show, and Aditi was enthusiastic about the latent talent that she had noticed in the children. The workshop had explored the mediums of collage, sketching, painting, clay modeling and animation. She explained that the last three days had been dedicated to animation, with children choosing their own stories, animating their clay models and recording narration. She also told me that they had been present during the editing process as the sequences were turned into four short films, so in effect they had been the directors.
Zubeno showed me around the centre, which was holding music classes by the Head of the Singing Department, renowned singer from Nagaland Nise Meruno and by visiting faculty that had come from outside Nagaland. She explained that the centre is the only place in the state where classical ballet is taught by a teacher from Malaysia, and that they put on a yearly performance at the Hornbill Festival in December. She told me that this year they are planning to stage a musical based on folktales of Nagaland that has received inputs from Gilles Shuyen, a French dancer, choreographer and director who has been visiting Nagaland for many years. The production will be a style of modern fusion and when I asked her about this, she revealed that the young generation do not have much interest in the pure form of traditional dance but are captivated by modern forms of expression. In the discussion I began to realize that traditional cultural does not offer scope for change or development by the young generation as it is suspended in time, but naturally youth would like to infuse their cultural activities with impressions gained through their own experiences of change in Naga society. Furthermore, a modern style can unite tribes and art forms in a way that is restricted by traditional practices. This is important when remembering the diversity of tribes in the state.
In conversation with Mr. Mozhui (Vizo) I learnt that the unusual attraction for western classical music was an influence from the Christian missionaries, and he told me that there was undeniably a preference for violin and piano over instruments such as the sitar. Grandfathers and fathers had been introduced to western hymns and until more recent times, there had always been negative connotations associated with the people from the plains, instigated by the presence of the Indian army. My forefathers (the British) he said, had oil and tea interests in Assam. The hill areas were largely left alone, with occasional punitive expeditions sent to suppress his forefathers (the Nagas) who would sometimes raid the tea plantations. As a result Nagas became too independent and he felt that they now needed to learn to be a cohesive group.
I wanted to know how a whole population had been coerced into accepting a foreign religion so completely at a time when there had been no common language of communication between the American and British missionaries and the Nagas: Vizo expressed his personal belief in the power of the word God (the Bible) and the relative innocence of the Nagas who accepted Christianity with total faith; religion is undeniably a binding force of Naga society today.