Myriad hues of Khasi life in art

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  • Published 29.08.12

Shillong, Aug. 28: They came as visitors, but are leaving an indelible mark on the residents of this capital city with their creativity and understanding.

Dutch couple Arno Peeters and Iris Honderdos, who have been here for the past month, imbibed knowledge about the Khasis through interactions with a cross-section of people to understand the essence and character of Khasi society.

Today, it was a gathering with a difference as the audience at Don Bosco Hall here learnt about Khasi identity, culture, tradition, music, food, natural resources through art.

The art installation, “The Red, Gold and Green of the Khasis,” was designed by Peeters and Honderdos. The couple created a multi-dimensional portrayal of Khasi culture, its precious heritage and fragile existence.

The art installation comprises four rings in which each of the seven elements (referring to the Hynniewtrep) represents a particular Khasi relation.

The lowest circle of big cone-shaped baskets represents the “gold” of the Khasis — rice, bamboo, limestone, coal, medicinal herbs, betelnuts and others.

The second upper circle of cone-shaped baskets depicts the spiritual heritage, language, matriliny, music, ethics, sacred forests, ethics, beliefs and rituals, as well as herbal healers. This is depicted with icons within the baskets and spoken word (through sound) to accompany it. The spoken word revolves around these “jewels” of Khasi culture.

The third outer circle of rain shields (knup) highlights the need and reason for protection, again in speech form.

Lastly, there is a circle of serpents depicting the dangers that threaten Khasi culture — unabated influx of foreigners, alcoholism and substance abuse, corruption, pop culture, religion, pollution, besides urbanisation.

The choices of these threats are based on what the Khasi people from all walks of life have expressed to the artists and what they themselves have gathered from the media. At the centre of the installation, there is a rope ladder (referring to the Jingkieng Ksiar or the mythological golden bridge connecting heaven and earth). The ladder also represents the double helix of DNA.

It has been said that Khasi DNA is over 70,000 years old, making the Khasis the original inhabitants of this part of the world, well before the Indo-Aryans arrived.

Red stands for blood and danger; gold represents the wealth of natural resources and the Khasi cultural heritage while green depicts the land and environment in which the Khasis live. Red and gold are also the dominating motifs in Khasi jewellery.

The gathering was enlivened with poetry reading, playing of the duitara (Khasi musical instrument) and flute.

The art project is part of a global initiative — Visualising Development with Identity of the Royal Tropical Institute, the Netherlands. The couple were hosted and assisted by the Martin Luther Christian University here during the course of the project.

The installation could either be placed at the museum of the Don Bosco Centre of Indigenous Culture (DBCIC) at Mawlai here or exhibited in different parts of the world.