Art with a message

Art with a message

positive notes

Art with a message

Extending beyond the canvas, Ranjan Engti’s art acts as a tool of positive social change, writes Juanita Kakoty, after an interaction with the artist who is redefining public conceptions of art

Young and dynamic Karbi artist Ranjan Engti has set a whole new standard for artists, viewers and critics with a range of work that depicts socio-political issues. His work has been exhibited and critically acclaimed at galleries in different parts of India as well as the US, and has been constantly reviewed in various publications. The 28-year-old has been making his presence felt in creative circles in Delhi as well as the northeast with his bold colours and imagery influenced by Warhol and Pop Art.

“My style is very contemporary,” Ranjan tells me. “I believe that art is not just canvas. For people to appreciate art, art installation and ambience are important.” Graduating from Hans Raj College, Delhi University in 2003, he came back to Guwahati in 2010 to change the art scene in the northeast with his reality and abstract paintings.

In the forefront

“I merged art with popular media. We began with an outdoor exhibition at the Racquet and Billiards Club, where we did an underwater display. This is how I started Metropolis, an art event based around the concepts of urban identity, urban struggle, etc. The idea grew, and with the help of other northeastern friends, I took it to the other northeastern states: Meghalaya, Nagaland and Manipur. In Metropolis, we mix art with local activities, as well as with the local flavour of a place. In Metropolis 2013 held in Guwahati, for instance, we brought the activities and experiences in the different northeastern states under one roof,” he adds.

Ranjan also spearheads the Karbi Youth Festival, an event which is about 48 years old. “It is recognised as Northeast India’s biggest ethnic festival,” says Ranjan. The festival today is not just a celebration of Karbi heritage and culture, but also provides a forum to determine and redefine Karbi art and culture from a new and progressive perspective.

Taking art to people

To speak of his latest work, Ranjan is involved in the ‘I am Responsible’ campaign under the Metropolis banner. “My work and art installations have received a good response from people. Everyone, from children to adults, has loved the experience. The Deputy Commissioner, Ashu Agnihotri, loved the concept and said that we should take art to people, combining it with the development of civic sense. That is how the ‘I am Responsible’ campaign was conceptualised. The idea was to emotionally appeal to people.”

This is an initiative, Ranjan says, of the District Disaster Management Authority (Kamrup Metro), in association with the Directorate of Archaeology. “In this campaign, we are raising awareness about urban floods, landscape, waste disposal, etc. through our art. The next phase will start in 2014 when we hope to begin implementation.”

For this event, Ranjan and his team have not only sketched heritage sites and buildings of the city, some of which are no longer functional, but have also created a gallery with old photographs to show how Guwahati was a hundred years ago, and how it is now. “As I said, art is not just canvas for me. Its scope is wide.”

The accomplished artist, however, laments the negligence he sees in people for the arts. In fact, as a student, he had to engage with the arts without his family’s knowledge! “I started painting from my childhood. At our school, Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya in Tejpur, there was an environment facilitating the exchange of artists and art teachers. After high school, I went to Delhi University hoping to do a course in art. But my family vetoed the idea and I took up history. But from my second year onwards, I got involved in our college’s Fine Arts Society. Also, around that time, a few of us formed a group called Curves and Shapes, which still exists today. Of course, my family did not know about any of this!”

Plans for future

Thus, he says, it is his dream to change the perceptions people hold about the arts. “Despite the pool of talent that we have, art over here generally happens in a dull environment, in the corner of a sad gallery. But if the presentation is good and can be taken to people, then art can be appreciated here as well, just as it is in Delhi and Bombay. This is what I am striving for.” He has great plans. “Nagaland has the Hornbill Festival, Shillong has its Music Festival, but Guwahati has no such yearly event. I am trying to establish Metropolis as one such event focused on art.”

It is heartening to listen to the young artist with his ideas and zeal for his work. “I draw inspiration from everything in life,” he says. His art inspires and captivates. His works speak with a voice that reverberates through society and politics. They cannot be ignored.