Apr 25, 2012

Nagalim: Exhibition Captures Naga Society

Berenice Ellena displays black and white photographs of the Naga people, portraying tradition and modernity in a conflict affected region. Through these and other projects, she hopes to preserve the Naga heritage. 

Below is an article published by Deccan Herald:

The exhibition ‘Nagas En Route’ of about 51 photographs mainly comprises black and white portraits and landscapes examining the transitions and metamorphoses the Naga people and their heritage are undergoing. 

The idea to click the trouble-torn Nagaland came to Berenice when she saw wooden sculptors from the state at National Museum in the Capital [New Delhi]. “That was in the 1980s.  I was fascinated by the strong expressions used by the artists and that was the first time I heard about Nagas. Those sculptors were human figures. This type of expression is used very much by artists in France,” says Berenice, a textile designer and art curator. 

She visited Nagaland for the first time when researching textiles and natural dyes for her book, ‘India Sutra’ and thereafter many times. On her travels, she captured a set of photographs that have been shot from 1998 uptil a few months ago.’’

She chose to capture the colourful Nagaland in black and white. She says, “The drama of black and white photography is amazing. There are a lot of colours in Nagaland but sometimes colours kill the expressions.” 

Her images reflect the pace of a still bucolic life, in an environment where hill-dwellers had to survive by relying on nature’s clemency as well as on their own skills. 

They speak of womanhood, pride and hope in a better tomorrow. One of her photos ‘Born of trees’ symbolically depicts the merging of Naga people from nature into the contemporary frame. 

“I have given interpretation to the shadow of a man and a tree merging with each other. It is about the relationship between man and nature which is very strong in Nagaland,” she shares with Metrolife.

Some pictures are about the locals embracing the modern values and tools, telling the tale of the change that Naga society is going through. A photograph titled ‘Time travel’ shows a tribal man clicking himself with mobile phone at Hornbill Festival, Kohima. 

“I would witness the deep changes Naga society and its aesthetics were undergoing. I felt concerned about the fragile treasure of a specific and once very rich culture on the verge of fading away,” she says on her experience with Nagas and their culture.

More recently, she has been engaged in a project to establish a tribal heritage museum  in the capital, Kohima. “The museum will play a crucial role in the preservation of the extraordinary heritage, both tangible and intangible, of the Naga people,” informs Berenice. 

She is using the exhibited photographs as a tool to raise awareness for this project. “When I was crossing over into Nagaland through the state checkpost, I never thought that I would keep on returning to this amazing region,” she smiles.