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Shadow play

SHAILAJA TRIPATHI
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CRAFT Inspired by the puppetry tradition of Andhra Pradesh, Jimmy Chishi is starting a novel artistic tradition for Nagaland

NEW FRONTIERS Jimmy Chishi with his Naga shadow puppets PHOTO: V.V.Krishnan
NEW FRONTIERS Jimmy Chishi with his Naga shadow puppets PHOTO: V.V.Krishnan

I nnovations in the contemporary realm of art are frequent happenings where artists take all kinds of liberties. The ancient folk idiom often enters the fray with artists using its essence within the parameters of an extremely contemporary visual language but when somebody attempts to evolve a folk art form for a state which never existed; it can only be hailed as extraordinary. Surrounded by the various storytelling traditions in the form of intriguing and fascinating masks, puppets and scrolls at Akhyan, an ongoing exhibition at the IGNCA, displayed in a quiet corner are the shadow puppets of a Naga warrior and an elephant.

Though folklore is an intrinsic part of the Naga culture, puppetry isn't known to have existed in the tribal state. Jimmy Chishi, a self-taught artist while working with Tholu Bommalata puppeteers of Andhra Pradesh, realised that Naga folk stories could be translated into a visual format of this kind. So, while he borrowed the technique of shadow puppets, one of the oldest form of puppetry practised in India, the visual imagery made its way from the age-old Naga tales that belong to the 14 tribes of the state. “Being the oldest form of puppetry, shadow puppetry is ingrained in our minds. The puppets are just the same with rods and perforations but of course the music and the whole environment will come from Nagaland,” says Jimmy.

The human figures, tigers, elephant, horn bills, mithuns that adorn the wooden morungs, the dormitories, part of the traditional Naga society used for important ceremonial purpose along with totems, paintings done on their shawls and woodcraft have informed his puppets which are crafted in goat skin and executed in pen, ink and acrylic.

For Akhyan, the young artist has created puppets based on the famous folk tale ‘The Elephant's Eye' of its Sumi Naga tribe which revolves around an arrogant elephant and how his eyes came to be so tiny. “Naga story-telling tradition, I think is intense and mystical and since it doesn't have a visual expression, I thought it faced limitations in reaching more and more people. So exploring the tradition through visual aesthetics is one approach and the idea is to record these treasure troves,” expresses Jimmy. With the stage of experimentation behind him, Jimmy is all set to move to the next phase of making more puppets which could be even based on contemporary themes. “There would be formal performances as well because till now we were performing in informal setting for friends and Naga students,” concludes the Naga puppeteer.

SHAILAJA TRIPATHI

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