Folk and classical art: With reference to the situation prevailing in Khasi society in accordance with popular customs and usages, it is amply clear that there is no trace of visible folk art tradition in terms of visual artistic expression. . Khasi oral folk literature and folk music has huge elements of folk expression and later it was written down in book form, deliberated, discussed and debated in various social and academic forums; some pieces can be considered classic. However, in the visual arts, folk elements are absolutely non-existent, so there is no room for growth, evolution or refinement. Before the emergence of folk art in Khasi society, social changes took place with the intrusion of neighboring races and later the invasion of foreign colonial imperialists. Perhaps the neighboring Bengali community introduced some sense of craftsmanship and later the British introduced an austere tradition of visual art through the Roman Catholic Church. Consequently, the current generation of indigenous artists has encountered culture shock; nor could they produce an authentic local taste nor a refined taste of the acquired tradition of visual arts expression. Nevertheless, the liberal expression of contemporary art is noticeable in indigenous artists like Benedict Skhemlang Hynñiewta, Thomas Mylliemumlong, Federick Donboklang Hynñiewta, Danny Tiewdoph, Rembrandt Iakmenlang Kharnaïor and Careen J Langstieh. For my part (Raphael Warjri), I have also endeavored to engage myself in this way and I leave it to the readers or the critic to appreciate and evaluate. Some talented traditionalists like Solomon Kharir, Reginal Mark Rani, Ariopagos Manner and a few others worked in their individual style of liberal expression and managed to establish distinct personal statements and individual identities. Some of the young emerging artists like Mario Pascal Pathaw and Denzil Kharbudon also represented their original creativity based on Khasi folklore.
On the other hand, Garo artists have a vibrant visual tradition from which artists have drawn their concepts and images. Some of the prominent artists are Vikramjit Sangma, Daniel Marak, Sambertush Marak, Jimstar Momin, Arak M Sangma and Silnang M. Momin. Among the important folk concepts and images of the Garos are the Dókakku, Nokpante, Borang, Narikki, Bugarani and other cultural traits of the community. The Nokpante is a popular cultural image that represents the Garo people and their land. It is a dormitory for singles where all discussions on human and social values are deliberated. One of the most important components of the Nokpante is the Dókakku. The Dókakku is a treasure of ancient Garo culture and tradition. It is believed that Dokakku is brought from the land of the ancestors to the Tibetan area and installed at any vital post of the Nokpante being built. The Narikki is an earring worn by ladies, considered the protective gear against the demons of the afterlife. The earring is like the cylindrical series of rings that hypnotize the evil spirit while the soul of the deceased is on its way to the abode of the ancestors. Other cultural images that have affected the sentiment of artists are the folk mermaid and merman known as Bugarani and Bugaraja; the mermaid is known in Garo as So’re, considered the most beautiful maiden who has caused many mighty warriors to lose their lives for her; the Borang or treehouse, which serves as a watchtower for the crop field; the Sarendra, a stringed folk musical instrument and some other folk elements.
The neighboring tribal communities in northeast India also have distinct folk art traditions which can be easily identified and differentiated from each other. Although all the tribes of northeast India are of Tibeto-Burman origin, their individual folk art can be separately identified, leaving out the Khasis, who lack any tradition of visual art and belong to Austro-Asian racial origin. It is another peculiar historical situation that a tiny Austro-Asiatic community is surrounded by the dominant Aryan and Tibeto-Burmese races. The Nagas, Mizos, Arunachal, Assamese, Manipuris and Sikkimese have their respective folk art traditions. Even the Garos of Meghalaya also have their own folk art tradition. Unfortunately, little is visible about the folk art of Tripuri, although it has a vibrant folk tradition. perhaps because of the intrusion of tradition from Bengal across the border. There is an element of Eastern Chinese or Tibetan artistic tradition in certain sub-tribes such as the Lepchas of Sikkim and the Monpas of Arunachal Pradesh.
The concept of contemporary art is perceived as crossing beyond the virtual visibility of the human eye. The idea is that the instantaneous and immediate incident or the continuous development of personal experience or encounter with society can touch the heart and prompt the mind of a person to create images that reflect the situation. It is the norm and the essence of the artistic expression that one usually encounters. However, a sensitive person could be easily affected by both the simple incident in personal life or the sophisticated situation in society or the whole world. Agony and ecstasy are the emotional experiences that activate and motivate the person to create aesthetic items. However, aesthetics can also be measured in terms of pure entertainment. Therefore, the human mind should be able to tell the difference between the two as there is a fine line to separate them. A simple object of amusement may seem casual or absurd or otherwise a sophisticated work of art may seem redundant to a thoughtful person. The same thoughtful person might be captivated by another simple piece of entertainment and obviously aware of another sophisticated piece of art. However, the person with a simple mind will have fun with the simple fun pieces and will probably ignore the two fancy works of art. It all depends on the intellectual capacity of an individual. This is the enigma that prevails in the art world, there is no rule to assess the level of the work of art. Nevertheless, there must be a level of quality that conforms to the lesser acceptability of the true fraternity of artists. It is the job of the art critic to deliberate, argue and convince artists as well as society. The art critic will know the artists but will find it difficult to convince the public. For example, the art critic could analyze and scrutinize the image of a naked person. According to the law of nature, an ordinary heterosexual male would like to appreciate the female form and vice versa, but as artists they study both forms and learn to understand them separately before reproducing them in any artistic medium. . The innocence and vulgar impression of a naked form can be authenticated by a critic or an artist, which the ordinary person may not be able to distinguish. Therefore, the public is still controlled by social conventions and tends to judge on instant impressions.
The meaning of contemporary art must be broader than the visible power of human sight, it must trigger the mind, it must touch the heart. Emotions of pleasure or sorrow can be reflected through visual art; peace and weariness can be reflected through visual art. Memory and concern for nature, humanity, culture and folklore could be reflected through visual arts. Therefore, the skill of mind and hand worked together to create a refined and precious art form. The more one is assiduous, persevering and concentrated on the work, the greater the finesse and perfection of the work of art; and this is the basis of great art. To evaluate and appreciate such great art, it takes sincerity, honesty and courage. It is the solid basis for a true understanding of contemporary art. This essence of contemporary art is refined and austere in the West, but it is emerging in this territory, but that does not mean that people in this region are not receptive to such a notion. As an artist, I have traveled through the ages of simple expression of realistic art and surveyed the growth and progress of conceptual representation in modern art. It is not difficult to understand modern art if we are receptive to change with a good understanding of the process of evolution of representation applied to the abstract representation of visual images. Art has the potential to nurture and strengthen society and humanity, but entertainment is superficial and generates temporary pleasure. It is similar to the difference between sexual pleasure and the process of procreation. The two must coexist. Without the physical contact of a fertile couple, there is no creation of new life; and without the literal application of emotions, there is no art. But there should be a balance between the two elements; the coexistence of the two elements should ensure sustainable development and survival. If the literal application is more than the required amount, it will hamper emotional expression; on the other hand, if the emotional expression is more than the required amount, it will hinder the literal application. The picture or image should be visually pleasing and relate to the meaning of the meaning it conveys. It’s total aesthetics. Society needs both the elements to achieve true satisfaction from the experience and taste of this aesthetic. The consistent cultivation of this experience will allow society to learn and grow in perspective and attitude towards art. It is as if the music should be pleasing to the ear and the lyrics will further enhance the quality of the experience and bring satisfaction and contentment. The regular exposure to art as well as the interaction and critique within the group of interested and serious people will seep into the different layers of the community and collectively transform into a more civilized society.