Dying Naga weaving tradition used to highlight issues of abuse

New Delhi: Acrylic depictions of women engaged in daily activities like spinning yarn, weaving baskets, or dancing and celebrating, created on fibre canvases woven by community womenfolk in Nagaland have been used to portray survival stories of sexual and domestic abuse.

Iris Odyuo, a scholar and artist from Nagaland, has brought to the city a selection of new art works, in which she attempts to address the issue of sexual violence and domestic abuse and honour its survivors.

Odyuo has created 9 paintings using acrylic on traditional shawls woven by the various communities in Nagaland from fabric made by stinging nettle and re-purposed by her into canvases for the exhibition that opened here last evening as part of the ongoing 12th IAWRT Asian Women's Film Festival.

"I find that that sexual violence and domestic abuse knows no boundaries, they are universal. And it is not just women who are have borne the brunt, men and boys are also suffering," says Odyuo. "The issue is much larger and often the victims are reluctant to speak up and continue to go on doing what they have been doing in the hope that everything will eventually go back to being normal," says the artist who is a Professor of History at a college in rural Nagaland.

The scholar who claims to be a self taught artist wanted to also put the focus on age-old weaving skills of her state, which she says is a tradition that is slowly fading out to 'a market flooded with cheap synthetic and Chinese products.' "Fabrics fashioned out of stinging nettle were first used by German soldiers in the World War for making Army uniforms. The tradition is still continuing in villages in rural

Nagaland near the Burma border where women create beautiful shawls out of them. The making of the fabric is time consuming and quite arduous," says Odyuo. The artist commissions shawls for her canvasses that she says assists "at least two or three rural women to help earn a livelihood". After working with the richly woven fabrics, Odyo says she finds it difficult to use commercial canvasses.

"I have titled the exhibition as 'Healings' because it is about the process of healing which can resolve hate, do away with fears and try to forge a better life for those who have encountered violence and abuse," says the artist.

She says sexual violence is not just confined to women and not only in conflict zones but is prevalent among men and boys across the world. "I stumbled on to art as a form of expression in the 90s after witnessing one particularly gruesome incident near my home in rural Nagaland where I was posted. Warring members from rival tribes were kicking and beating and abusing women and men and it was a pretty gruesome sight," says Odyuo.

She has been holding exhibitions of her art in Nagaland and says had participated in a group show in New Delhi in 2008-09. "That exhibition had a lot of gloomy works which showed anger, grief and loss. This time I have portrayed a much happier and brighter pictures where survivors of violence and abuse are trying to do away with their fears and attempt to forge a better life," says the artist.

Muted browns, yellows and dark burnished browns are predominant in her current show represent the earthy aesthetic of her compositions. The canvases depict Naga women threshing wheat, weaving baskets and preparing to take part in a celebration singing and other activities.

"I am now working on bigger format works and will try brighter colours like red and blue in the next series. I have finished one work based on a picture I saw recently in a weekly magazine," she said.

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