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Dying Nagaland weaving tradition used to highlight issues of abuse

Thursday, Mar 3, 2016,15:46 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

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.

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