Isha Arora, Feb 20 :Few Indians ever think of Mizos, fellow-citizens who inhabit the far Northeastern outreaches of the national territory,” the introductory passage entailing the gist of ‘The Camera As Witness: Capturing Mizo Pasts’, a photography exhibition from Mizoram throws light on this stark reality.
Resonating with the current sentiment in the Capital, post-Nido Taniam’s death and the discourse around discrimination, it seems true not just for Mizos, but for all the Northeasteners. Recently displayed in India International Centre Annexe’s Art Gallery, the exhibition curated by Joy LK Pachuau from Jawaharlal Nehru University and Willem van Schendel from the University of Amsterdam, took us through the period of nearly a century, offering a charming glimpse of life in Mizoram.
The black and white pictures distinctly elaborate how Mizos engaged with their social environment, as the course of history turned from the colonial rule, the arrival of missionaries to the insurgency between the 1960s to the 1980s. With extensively detailed captions and text, the exhibition divides the course of Mizo history as it dwells on different stages such as the prominence of Lushai chiefs (the 60-odd autonomous chiefs who ruled the Lushai (Mizoram) hills before getting incorporated into an administrative system under the British colonial rule); the arrival of missionaries in 1894 that spread Christianity with a focus on education; the staging of culture and tradition by representing local culture pictorially as it became a focus of attention for both colonialists and missionaries; education, troubles, music etc.
Interestingly, the photographs emphasise the underlying reality of how Mizos became the forerunners in search of modernity. What comes across as ‘westernisation’ for the rest of India this side of the Brahmaputra, is indeed the Mizos’ acceptance and adaptation to the global symbols of modernity as they domesticated these symbols to fit their local culture. For instance, their interest in cosmopolitan lifestyles got an impetus during World War II when allied forces spread across the region. That’s where the trend of cowboy-inspired dressing styles and American popular music impregnated the Mizo culture.
Through a sweeping glance at studio photography and wedding portraits amongst other frames, the exhibition provides a comprehensive look at Mizo history with an array of evocative pictures.