Hemangini Bordoloi : Portrait painting

An article by Rupanjali Baruah

Charles Dickens once commented about portrait painting: “There are only two styles of portrait painting – the serious and the smirk.” However, apart from such limitations, there are subtle human emotions that appear on a portrait. Apart from the mouth, most of the facial expressions are achieved through the eyes and eyebrows. Eyes provide a reliable mirror to the soul and eyebrows register wonder, pity, fright, scorn, pain, cynicism, concentration, wistfulness, displeasure and expectation. There are these variables available for a portraitist who may employ a wide range of color palette or simply rely on monochromatic hues. Mood is always important for a portrait artist to capture the particular essence of the one whose portrait is being made. Human faces are asymmetrical and so for a portrait artist, it is necessary to reduce the left right differences.

Born in 1925 into an illustrious family of artist and writers, Hemangini Bordoloi drew easily into the world of art. Later through her days at Santiniketan, she arrived at the core of learning fine art from her masters of Bengal school of art that served as a foundation for her later experiments in art practices. She quickly assimilated and excelled in the different artistic endeavors. Back in Assam, she pursued her undying interest in art with conviction and created several works of excellence.

When Hemangini Bordoloi took up portrait painting, this genre instantly exemplified her simplicity and ease in the handling of her oeuvre as well as her keen observation of every facial details that are the true hallmark of an artist who could make portraits appear so life-like. She played a pivotal role in establishing a distinct pioneering art trend of a portraitist in the pre- independence era in Assam.

Hemangini Bordoloi’s forte was tempera, water color, ink wash, charcoal and oil on canvas. They share the romance and thrill of each experience as the artist begins her brushstrokes on her canvas. We see through her art how a woman in those early days dared to venture outside the threshold of her home to pursue her cherished dream. Hemangini Bordoloi embodies the undying spirit of Assamese women to carry on a revered mission. Her distinctive portrait paintings were of Karmavir Nabin Chandra Bordoloi, Freedom fighter and First prime minister of Assam, Lokapriyo Gopinath Bordoloi and many faces of women with photographic details as it were a camera had captured attributes of each persona.

Hemangini Bordoloi who passed away in 2007 epitomizes a person who withstood all her upheavals and hardships in life with quiet fortitude because she derived strength from her numerous artwork. Her color and brushstrokes were her true companions in solitude. She always remained a silent devoted disciple of art.

Gauhati Artist Guild truly deserves kudos for undertaking a laudable endeavor to preserve, restore and promote all the lifework of a woman artist of Assam whose contributions in portrait painting in particular shall provide inspiration and encouragement to many. This is indeed a laudable endeavor by the artists’ fraternity.

Veteran artist Neel Pawan Baruah commented, ‘Besides being an artist, she was a great human being. She epitomized love and affection. I salute her for what she had done for our society.’ Lutfa Akhtar, city based artists remarked, ‘She was the first Assamese woman artist who expressed herself through poignant depiction of lives and places through her paintings.’

Hemangini Bordoloi shall remain a shining star in the art world of Assam as the first ever known woman artist who had trodden a solitary journey with indomitable spirit and courage.