Debananda Ulup: Doorway of Art

An article by Rupanjali Baruah

A doorway of tradition, history, culture, rituals give us a glimpse of the atist, Debananda Ulup’s deep, profound world. The royal retinue of kings and queens, trees of varied shapes reflect on that age-old world of the Singpho community to which the artist belongs. His memories of that universe still survive in his consciousness and they serve as the perfect settings for his intimate, personal musings on life as a Singpho and his sensibilities.

Debananda Ulup’s early awareness of his inheritance and his creative quest came from his contact with natural earth colors and dyes, dry mud, charcoal etc. Till then, he had to accept them as resources to create something. These colors are related to his memories of childhood, and later in life, the urban scenery could not usurp it. However, the concrete world is juxtaposed against his rural foundation. There is apparently a dichotomy in his initial work where the difference between the two worlds becomes a strength derived from his unshakable roots. Every artist’s birthplace, its habits, customs, rituals all enrich the artist’s sensibility. Ulup often reflects on his grandmother’s tales that transport him to that old world charm and these idioms become the source of his enrichment of his created world on his canvas. Here too a synthesis of thought and memories come to play. Later during his formal introduction into the world of art in Guwahati, he became aware of the various possibilities to unearth his creative talents. He recalls how artist Noni Borpujari inspired him and as a mentor showed him the right way to explore his hidden creative spark. Eventually, Ulup’s search for beauty and truth in various situations became his own. He embarked on that search with full vigor and determination to discover through his exploration of art his own freedom to grow more. Now his journey has become an inward journey. Ulup’s motifs are varied picked up from his myriad experiences – he feels a stir, sometimes a situation becomes a throwback to his lost world of childhood, and then he recovers again to his urban reality.

His ‘PatkaI’ ’ series explores a deep terrain where loss of values, loss of natural resources by intrusion of modern ways. He voices his protest against the errors of society that he finds revealed on the dense, dark holes on his native soil where deforestation and intrusion of modern technology of coal mining and excavation had made his land thoroughly bankrupt of its natural resources. He also observes how the yellow field of crop have turned barren. These are his silent protests on his canvas that carries his sense of helplessness and angst against social intrusion into his pristine, rural world. The marginal existence of his people and the social structure that determine the identity to them prevails under the rubric of measuring their inherent values. Singphos have been uprooted from the mainstream people but they have survived on their cultural soil. The entry of modernising is to be blamed for changes that destabilised them and their tribal upbringing faced marked changes in the socio religious approaches.

In his ‘Crisis’ series, Ulup explores the old world of his Singpho society that still cherishes some remnants of old values. Here Singpho warriors, folk totems, symbols of trees and hutments that are integral part of his Singpho community.

For a while, Ulup broke away from these perspectives to explore the landscape through geometrical finesse. However, he soon realized that this was not his forte, that he should go back to his natural roots. His mother would weave tales of glory, of historical exploits like a fairy tale and so storytelling becomes part of his natural inherited psyche. Later, he explored a psychological domain where he saw the gradual spanning out of certain elements like a tree or a hut viewed from a distance while a dominant figure remain as a close up view to eclipse those other attributes surrounding him. Sometimes dream played a role where a figure is seen as exaggerated and that determines the shape of things on his canvas. Birds, elephants are recurring images that overlap his awakened sensibilities.

In his recent work, ‘My Valley’ Ulup discovers a breathing space , a relaxed mental disposition that he has come to preserve through color, line, movement Though he is currently somewhat disconnected with old world yet his sensibilities have been shaped by those everlasting roots – these rituals are kept alive on his canvas like a good omen. It is a forward moving spell for an artist to be inspired and to inspire others of his ilk. Here too a synthesis of thoughts and memories came to play in his consciousness.