Monday, 22 September 2014

Jimmy Chishi: Puppets with Naga motifs (Deccan Herald, 7 Sep 2014)


Play of shadows

Sep 7, 2014 DHNS
Fascinated by the art of shadow puppetry, Juanita Kakoty talks to artiste Jimmy Chishi, whose puppets have resurrected the folk lores from Nagaland

Fascinated by the art of shadow puppetry, Juanita Kakoty talks to artiste Jimmy Chishi, whose puppets have resurrected the folk lores from Nagaland.
I am not used to associating puppets with flat surfaces. So, when Jimmy Chishi showed me his shadow puppets, flat surfaces, I wondered if they could match up to those soft toy-like figures I’ve known as puppets. But what fascinated me were the motifs on these flat puppets and the beautiful craftsmanship. And then he showed me photographs from his exhibitions, and I was mesmerised. When light was thrown upon these translucent flat puppets, placed against a flat background, they became magical.

Holding a puppet inspired by the Naga folktale The Elephant’s Eye, Jimmy Chishi pointed out, “These visuals that you see here began with traditional motifs from Naga shawls, Tsungoteptsu (Ao Naga tribe) shawls to be precise. This is a shawl that has a black and white band; and what is unique about the shawl is that the band is painted with black ink as part of ritual-based painting, celebrating head-hunting. So, it’s a headhunter’s shawl. And the painting motifs are interesting. I started studying these, including other motifs like the tattoo marks of the different Naga tribes, the Phoms and the Konyaks especially. But, when I use them in my puppets, I bring my own interpretation to them.” 

Using Naga motifs
Jimmy is essentially a painter and sculptor. He developed an interest in puppetry when he was pursuing a course in Jamia Milia Islamia in New Delhi. What intrigued him was how puppets could be used as a form of communication. “The whole thing about making sculptures that move was happening for a while in India. And I felt, for exploring the Naga folk stories, puppetry could perhaps be one of the most effective forms.”

I learnt from Chishi that there has been no tradition of puppetry in Nagaland. “But there has been a tradition of mask-making, carved by warriors. And the only reference for them is the old photographs by Hameindorf, anthropologists, or those by colonial administrators. The photographs tell you that these masks were being used for some kind of performance. That is one factor that I thought could be brought in from a contemporary point of view. The visual could be used to explore folk stories and folklores in the present context. I thought youngsters might find this visual exploring of folk stories interesting and re-visit their folktales and folk traditions.”

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My short story (fiction) The White Envelope published in Kitaab on 11 October 2017

Sameera baji rushed down the narrow steep stairs of the building, her sandals going ‘clap clap’ with every step she descended, ignoring th...