Art is his life stream


Sobha Brahma’s canvas is always massive, the smallest in his collection measures 4ft by 3ft. His figures are large, robust, bearing a monumental disposition, a stoic poise. His faces are people helplessly ravaged by upheavals, violence, social turmoil, they are beggars, rape victims, some try to push ahead, to shake themselves out of the gathering social torpor; the belt of poverty round empty stomachs is communicated through blatant gestures with vacant look in eyes and contorted fingers. Messages emerge clearly from them that the evils of poverty, misfortune, rape, violence need to be faced and weeded out of the social system, replaced by realistic social ethos and beliefs.

Most men shiver under the cold grip of death or denials but the people in Sobha Brahma’s shall not remain mute, they deliver statuesque statements that enable us to understand the artist’s sensibilities, the myriad emotions that he has gathered and experienced during his travails of long seventy- five years.

Born in 1929 at Bhumka, remote village near Gosaigaon in Assam, a quiet river that formed the backdrop to his house nurtured Sobha Brahma’s sensibilitiesthe tall ‘saal’ trees dared the child in him to hope to scale similar insurmountable heights in life. The early years of growing up through adversities both financial and familial chiseled him to look inward, always search for something where he could be compliant with, something gracious, lasting, big.

The answers to this quest came a few years later when on completion of his IA examination from Cotton College, Guwahati, Sobha Brhma decided to join Santiniketan- the prime seat of learning art and culture. It was rather incidental that he came at the threshold of his youth in contact with the mighty work, thought and philosophy of Bengal Renaissance and the impressionistic movement of the west. The inspiration from the works of stalwarts of the Bengal school, Rabindra Nath Tagore, Nandalal Bose and Ramkinkar Baij further shaped his aesthetic sensibilities. The years at Santiniketan (1952- 57) ingrained both traditional and western values in him. Through tempera, water color Brahma learned how form, color, structure are essential to a composition, why and how some colors deliver a message clearly to the viewer while others impregnate a moments realization only through ceratin combinations. He experimented with the palette knife in a bid to break away from the stereotyped line movement in painting. Sometimes he drew without lines, at other times he went back again to the line, these have been matters of his choice of a personal kind.

Sobha Brhma does not go by any established formula- to him system or formula are like frail bridges, the only bridge that he trusts is the bridge of his own thoughts that interprets different shades and meanings from life. It is because his philosophy is free from dogma that it is easy to place the artist and his oeuvre in a locale, accessible and simple like the man himself. And this is why his work is spontaneous, so free, what he feels unconsciously at a particular moment determines the character or the motif of what is translated upon his canvas.

His motifs are mostly figurative of tribal men and women portrayed through bold use of tribal colors which are predominantly yellow, blue, orange, mauve and red. They bear a resemblance to the masterstrokes of Gauguin whom Brahma admires for his Tahitian totems and tribal colors and like the master Brahma has the same romantic ardor of an artist whose pocket is perennially empty.

Sobha Brahma’s carvings (Fig No. II ) are on wood, stone and marble. They communicate a sense of volume through tribal motifs and natural images. His woodcarvings have a freedom from the archetypal method of carving. His approach is direct, personal, there are vacant spaces interspersed between the carved edges which he explains- ‘vacant space to me is very vital. It can say many things.’ His images are of primitive, tribal origin, his women figures are stately, their disposition sometimes rather rigid in their outlined contours. His recent sculpted figures are a return to folk forms, totems, gods and goddesses; as it were his association with the primal past is not yet over. Cult figures from African and Egyptian history acquire a separate serene identity in his hand; they are like a permeation of an orient mind with primal motifs drawn from tribal cultures and Nature. Nature is always telling him something – to him landscape painting is equally a necessary element – it allows an artist to observe new colors new dimensions and new movements. It allows an artist to enter into a greater intimacy with the natural world as he says ‘nature enters the psyche, it changes a man.’ Sobha Brahma’s aesthetic endeavors are manifold, ever growing with time, sometimes larger than life like his figures. His life has been a long arduous trail, and so each of his composition is not an imitation of the world but of what he has felt and known in it with sincerity. And this sincerity speaks to each of his viewers, fills them with awe and a strange magic, his reflections remain with us long after the primary contact with those images is over.

In 1957 when Sobha Brahma returned to Assam from Santiniketan he carried with him a new dream- to revive tribal art of which Assam is a veritable treasure house. He wished to begin a new trend in the artistic environment of his state. So while in the grip of serious financial hardships( that still make him shudder) he dared to set up an art school ( a Sunday school) at Guwahati that later, after many years of consistent efforts and struggles by himself, his wife and his fellow artists became the Government College of Art and Craft, Assam. Though he retired in 1988 as its founder principal Sobha Brahma still maintains his umbilical link with this institute, his advice and encouragement have been a guiding light to many budding artists of Assam.

Sobha Brahma has so far held 12 one man shows in India. In 1988, he visited Bulgaria on an invitation to represent India at the 6 th International Triennial of realistic art.

Today at 75, Sobha Brahma is unaware of the weakening of the flesh because it is supplemented by the exuberance derived through art that keeps feeling young, alive and resolute. In ‘Old time spring’ we get a glimpse of this exuberance of youth, which the artist calls is the spring- time in a man’s life. Age has not interfered with the genius of this man some of his compositions are like a forward movement to the past where he interprets his nostalgia, their mysteries.

The two perspectives of tradition and modernity Sobha Brahma asserts must go hand in hand, the artist must remember what he was in the past, nostalgia must work in him, give him the right directions just as a tree cannot grow without its roots, so too men require something strong and lasting, the root of tradition to hold his values together. In today’s Assam Brahma has observed a spirit of recognition in the cultural field