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Shades of Naga lives, far from the alien gaze
NIDHI GUPTA  22nd Apr 2012

Interior Woman

eyond the insurgency and political divisions that define Nagaland for the rest of India, there lies a world that is as routine and ordinary as any other. Berenice Ellena, a French designer and curator has sought to illustrate just this in her new on-going photo exhibition at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. Titled Nagas en Route, this show depicts the lives of the hill people minus the exoticism and orientalism that most outsider gaze is prey to.

Ellena has shot regular people in run-of-the-mill surroundings, mostly in Kohima, Nagaland's capital, not as a voyeur, but as somebody who has understood the culture more intimately. Pictures of young girls and boys in traditional Naga attire, middle-aged women captured in moments of afternoon quietude, old men sitting around in cafes discussing politics and the future, done up in stark black-and-white hues, are special because they catch moments of an entire community in a state of flux. "This is a traditional tribal people coming to terms with forces of modernity. The traditional songs, indigenous fashion, connect with older forms of communication, are all disappearing," says Ellena.

Apart from portraits of people, young and old, her lens also captures objects – household and personal accessories, pictures of Indira Gandhi, gods from all religions – that constitute the misc-en-scene of a still bucolic life, interrupted but not usurped by political divisions and communal strife. "I've noticed that the young people of Nagaland want to move past these notions of discord and relate with other tribes, interact with more of their kind," muses Ellena.

Her first visit to Nagaland was in 1998, while researching textiles and natural dyes for her book India Sutra. Since then, she has returned repeatedly, drawn not only by sartorial finesse, but also by the beauty of the people. This exhibition is partly to supplement awareness about her latest project, which is to build a museum with over 6,000 artifacts of Naga heritage.

As a "nomad and collector of ephemera", as she calls herself, her self-assigned task of capturing the spirit of this place in the right here and now has spoken successfully of womanhood, cultural pride and hope for a better tomorrow.

Venue: Mati Ghar, IGNCA

Date: Until 29 April

Timing: 10am -5pm

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