5 1 2017

From traditional tools and local spirits to digital tools and new interpretations: reflections on artistic practice in Nagaland

Tara Douglas


Over the past half-century, Naga communities often living in remote hill-top settlements, have faced a deluge of modernising forces, and today, an educated younger generation now participates in the digital domain. This paper examines the ways in which local cultural representations are linked to forms of agency in the midst of transition. For instance, a central focus of Naga art has been prowess in warfare, as courage brings with it certain status in the community. This has been linked with important customs such as choosing a suitable marriage partner. Widespread Christian conversion, however, has contributed to the removal of traditional effigies commemorating heroic ancestors. Moreover, modern schools have replaced many of the traditional sites - such as the morung or male bachelor's dormitory - for artistic development. As traditional artistic practices decline, collectors of Naga art have displayed them in galleries around the world, in many ways reifying old stereotypes. With growing tourism, the production of handicrafts that draw on traditional art is now a source of income for local artists, and cultural performances such as are found in the year-end Hornbill Festival are new sites for performing traditional uniqueness. As young people are more exposed to mass media entertainment, however, animation proves a viable alternative for young artists not at home in traditional art mediums. This article looks at the ways in which animation is used by young artists in exploring identity and cultural representation. It looks at the ways in which these new forms challenge embedded notions of authenticity art, and notions of indigenous culture as necessarily about the past.

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