Sobha Brahma, the artist-sculptor from Assam who gave a contemporary stroke to the north-eastern region's tribal art, passed away in hospital in Guwahati on March 5.
With the passing, at the age of 82, of this renowned resident of the first city of Assam, the curtains came down on an era of art and sculpting in the region.
Brahma, trained under the two leading lights of Santiniketan, Ramkinkar Baij and Nandalal Bose, planted and honed a creative idiom that was at once avant-garde and inventive. So distinct was his art, so researched it was into the forms, tones and shades representative of Assam's plains tribes — the Bodos, and the Dimasas, the Rabhas and the Karbis — that Brahma became everyone's own.
Brahma's flowering in art began in the 1950s. Along with his contemporary, Beni Mishra, he began searching for ways to give a fresh blend to art in Assam, different from their seniors in the 1930s and the 1940s. They had largely followed trails beaten by Raja Ravi Varma, and beautiful rural-scapes with an Impressionist influence, respectively.
Brahma turned out to be more prolific than Mishra. Returning after a long stint at Santiniketan (where he went after graduating from Cotton College, Guwahati, in 1948), he stood at a creative fork. Would he flow with the mainstream tradition of art, or take a trajectory free of the popular schools or styles? Fortunately for future generations, Brahma embraced the latter. And there began to take shape colossal canvases. Amid gloom and dimness, there was a splatter of colours suddenly, a distinguishing play of shades that compelled viewers to stop and stare. His works travelled extensively in India and abroad. Honours trickled in: the Kala Ratna from the Lalit Kala Akademi, the Kamal Kumari National Award, and the Bishnu Rabha Award, among others.
Brahma, a native of the Bhumka area of Kokrajhar district, continued to work and introspect even in his later years. The proof is in his gallery at his home. He also started the Sobha Brahma Trust to promote art.
He wrote books and newspaper articles based on his experience in the field spanning six decades.
Brahma was a great teacher. His years as Principal of the Government College of Art and Craft in Guwahati benefited a number of young artists. As vice-chairman of the Sankardeva Kalakshetra, he worked to bring to the fore the indigenous art of the northeast.