Neon lights from the nearby hotel hoarding faintly lit up a corner of the upcoming flyer over at Dispur Guwahati. It was around twelve midnight when a group of young boys and girls were busy on the bridge giving final touches to their work. The midnight painters of Guwahati.
Far from this group, 22-year-old Pujashree Konwar was deeply involved in her painting on one of the walls of the 1400 meter long flyover, which shall be dedicated to the people of the state on Deepawali by Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Soaked in her imagination and splashes from her paintbrush on her face, young Purbashree was giving details to the cane strap on the old Tiwa tribal women head carrying a basket load of grains that she was drawing on her very first day of the assignment.
“This is for ourselves and to everyone because this is what our culture and identity is. Art is something that not only looks good, but also feels good. It is what we put our heart and soul into. I am painting a tribal woman carrying paddy from the field in a basket supported on her head and she represents the Tiwa tribeswomen of Assam. My parents have been extremely supportive. All they want from me is to be a good human being. They have never stopped me from doing what I love. I believe in my instincts and they believe in me,” Pujashree said.
She added that no one reached out to her. “My brother-in-law shared some pictures of the painting that others were doing on the wall of the bridge. I reached out to these people and today is my first day. I am not a trained artist, but this is what I live for. I can leave anything for it, I can die for this,” she said.
Pujashree, who hails from Golaghat district of Upper Assam, has recently completed her masters in journalism from Guwahati University.
As the night grew deep, the air had the chill of winter in it, but a young bunch of artists in their t-shirts were engrossed in their work and short tea breaks.
On this day, four girls were there in the team and amazingly all of them were un-schooled painters. I came across Neelim Mahanta, the tall lanky young man, who is responsible for painting the city scape with the rich culture, tradition and heritage of Assam. He not only is a man of fine art, but one in the midst of action. Neelim shared some moments with us.
“When I bagged the project, I called up my friends and loved ones, who are with street painting, about the collaboration. We started work on October 5 and now we need to pace up as we have only three days in hand. It’s a wall of 1.5 km’s and when we take in count both sides, then it’s a 3kms long canvas. We are working on the theme of cultural representation of Assam. We did a lot of research on the tribes, national parks and architectural heritage of the state. We divided the bridge into thirty segments based on 33 tribes of Assam. The work was divided based on skill and proficiency. Some did the outline, some filling the colour and some were entrusted with the detailing work,” he said.
“The group has 20 members from different background and few looking after the management. No…I have done a bigger project in Mumbai in 2019 where the wall was 40ft tall. I am a dropout, I left my architecture study in the middle and joined fine arts in Delhi, which eventually I left. However, architecture allowed me to understand space and its dynamics. I do not lay much importance on the degree, but on what I have learnt. I prefer to work in the night as nights are cooler, silent and you can concentrate more in your work,” he added.
“This project reflects Assam’s rich culture in one single canvas and gives the message of unity in diversity. This possibly is the need of the hour, problems need an urgent solution and there has to be mental peace,” Neelim, from Assam’s Lakhimpur, said.
The bridge that is supposed to ease congestion in Dispur between the Assam Assembly and Secretariat complex is 1400 meters long and budgets a sanctioned amount of 127.20 Crore. Work for the bridge was inaugurated by former CM Sarbananda Sonowal on December 8, 2019 and was supposed to finish within 36 months.
With not many days left for the festival of lights and the day when vehicles begin to ply on the bridge, Sristi Sinha was about to finish her work. She has been doing all the detailing work in the project and more with the intricate description of the tribal fabric.
“My mother was hesitant initially. Why so late, she asked as she wants me back home by 11:30pm. It’s natural to be scared and sceptical with the kind of news you get to hear every day. However, I feel secured even though it’s the dead of the night. I don’t have any formal training in drawing, but I was into it since childhood. We have depicted the seven national parks and its rich fauna in one of the walls” Sristi said.
“We are feeling good doing it, I want feel people to feel good. We don’t want recognition, I request that they respect our hard work and don’t spit. Art shall stay much after the artist is no more,” Pujashree said.