Rabiram Brahma has a distinguished place in the world of art in Assam. A quintes sential artist, he is akin to a hermit who denounces a life of comfort and devotes himself to a higher pursuit. Search for a culturally vibrant place to earn name and fame as an artist was not a priority for him, as he preferred to stay rooted in his native Udalguri after finishing his post-graduation in Fine Arts at MS University, Baroda (1984). In his hometown, his dream was not only to grow as an artist, but also to create an artistic environment there. The Artist Village, established by him in the township in the early eighties, was the outcome of this vision, which soon turned into an active centre of creativity. And Brahma became what he was destined to be – a down to earth artist with a mission to spread the message of love among people.
The art lovers of Guwahati were recently privileged to see the artist’s solo exhibition at the State Art Gallery. The nineteen works displayed there did have the Rabiram Brahma we have known writ large on them, although the 55-year-old’s repertoire including the range of themes is larger. The urge for experimentation and to discover something new has taken him through different creative routes at different stages. The works displayed in this exhibition however, carried the prime characteristics of his art.
A deep-rooted concern for social cohesion emerges from many of his works. For a man who was witness to the fraternal conflicts between the Assamese and the Bodo communities in 1983, the artist in him had to respond and act as a unifying force. As a vital cog in the wheel of the folk-cultural movement, Brahma did his bit in laying the ugly conflict bare.
This effort continues till today. The Victim III (acrylic) displayed in this exhibition, aptly sums up the crisis, with sharp arrows fired from the two bows denoting the conflict. This is a simple symbol, but what is significant is the way the artist attaches meaning to the small area between the two bows. The fish imagery at the two ends of it represents the plight of innocents caught in the crossfire. Exchange (acrylic) is another work on the same theme, with the raging fire and arrows flying in opposite directions, taking the artist’s message to the people in an uncomplicated way. In Shelter, the artist further simplifies his message. With the help of only bold lines against the background of ochre, the artist draws the images of a mother carrying a child, with arrows hitting the tree they are standing under.
Nature inspires Brahma to use various objects, trees or animals, as effective symbols. Sometimes it seems like a deep love and concern for Nature, as expressed by the wounded trunk of the palm tree in Victim I (acrylic) or the denuded tree in Victim IV (wood-burn). But sometimes, the imageries carry socio-political connotations, which can be seen in the manner of presentation of the objects of Nature – the cat and the heron waiting beside a river full of fish (Calamity, wood-burn), the parasitic vine lording over a plant (Victim II, acrylic), a swathe of black eating up a picturesque land (Destroy, oil), or the water hyacinth in Migrate I.
Brahma’s range and mastery over colour application comes to the fore when he handles paucity of colours and supple thickness with equal finesse. The use of strokes is optimal and there is no wastage of space. Though colours vary in luminescence depending upon the subject-matter, they are usually vibrant. The artist, who caught the spirit of New Year’s eve by applying colours in a carefree, playful way (08 Last Night, acrylic), showed his control over the finest of strokes in depicting the distant horizon in Destroy. On the other hand, Brahma, who used to make portraits with cane in the initial phase of his career, harnesses the aesthetic potential of wood-burn to great effect. Elements of folk culture of the Bodos can also be traced in his works.
Brahma epitomizes the age-old brotherhood of the two indigenous communities of Assam. He is truly a people’s artist, an artist on a mission to spread the message of love and unity. While his sharp arrows highlight the dangers in a conflict ridden society, the threads of his spinning wheels emphasize the need for a harmonious existence. We wish Rabiram Brahma a long and successful life.