An interview with Nongmaithem Nandaraj : Lalit Kala Academy Award 2013-14

Jimmy Leivon *

Nongmaithem Nandaraj sculpting at this workshop at Imphal
Nongmaithem Nandaraj sculpting at this workshop at Imphal

24 year old Nongmaithem Nandaraj Singh, a college student scripted history in Manipur art world by becoming the first person to have been conferred with the prestigious 'Lalit Kala Academy Award', 2013-14 (organised by Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi) in sculpture for his work "Great Dictator". He is the second recipient of the award after Thoidingjam Tombi Singh, who won the award for painting in the year 1989.

The Lalit Kala Academy is India's highest national award in fine art.

Nandaraj is pursuing his 3rd semester in M.V.A Sculpture, at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Vadodara, Gujarat.

He is the youngest of the five siblings of Nongmaithem Jhulon Singh (father) and Nongmaithem Nandashakhi Devi of Kakching Turel Wangma, Thoubal district of Manipur.

He also won the Gujarat State Lalit Kala Academy Award, 2012, Prof. Jeram Patel award for best display, 2013 and other state level awards besides participating in various exhibitions across the country.

Q: What does the Lalit Kala Academy award mean to you? Please tell us your experience.
Nandaraj: The award is like a dream come true. I am very happy to receive such a prestigious award and thanked the Lalit Kala Academy, New Delhi for recognising my work. This award is a testimony that no dedicated effort goes in vain.

It is just the beginning of my journey as a professional artist.

'The Great Dictator' : Nongmaithem Nandaraj's award winning sculpture
'The Great Dictator' : Nongmaithem Nandaraj's award winning sculpture

Q: Please tell us a little about your childhood and how you to took to sculpting?
Nandaraj: I felt in love with sculpting when I was in class II. An uncle of mine name Raju, a local craftsman, had a workshop in our locality back then. There I used to spend several hours watching him do his work and gradually my interest for the art grew stronger. Most of the tools I used were homemade and spent at least few hours every day. Sculpting a work is commonly time consuming process and need lot of concentration and patience. Sculpture is one of the best ways to visualize the idea or concepts and feelings. It can visualize an idea or concept and feelings more deeply and expressively. I like this profession and also want to continue it as my profession.

Q: What are the themes that appear in your creations?
Nandaraj: Most of the themes that appeared in my works are related with society and nature. In my work "Great Dictator" I want to express the relation between the common peoples and rulers. Here the Iron represents the ruler and the shirt represents the common peoples of the nation. If the ruler is autocratic, selfish and partial to its people the society will have imbalance, unrest, slow progress chaos that would destroy the nation like iron can destroy and burn a shirt with excessive heat.

Q: What mediums do you use and why?
Nandaraj: Wood and brass. I prefer wood medium as I use to work with this medium since my childhood. It helps me to express my feelings and ideas more deeply.

Q: Please tell us a little about your favourite artists and how they influenced your work?
Nandaraj: Michel Angelo and Henery Moor are my two favourite artists. Their concepts, techniques, way of visualization helps me a lot to create my work and express my ideas, concept and feelings.

Q: What obstacles do you face in making and exhibiting your work? Is being a sculptor commercially viable in the Northeast?
Nandaraj: Other than financial problem and shortage of raw materials, I don't have any major problem, I get all the support that I wanted from family, friends and my gurus. Yes, I think a sculptor can comfortably sustain his living in North East, but when compare to other regions in the country it is just like a peanut.

Receiving the Lalit Kala Academy Award 2013-14
Receiving the Lalit Kala Academy Award 2013-14

Q: Is the artist's life a lonely one? Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Nandaraj: No, Artists life is always very close to society and nature and it is from these two things that I drew my inspiration.

Q: Are you working on any new projects? Can you share with us a little about it?
Nandaraj: Currently I have two projects titled "Purifyer" and "Blooming". Purifyer is nearing completion, the work is about my experience in life and how I try to stay focus on my work avoiding the gossips and back biting behind my back. Basically, in "Blooming" I am depicting the similarity between a maiden and flower.

Q: Tell us about your future plan after completing your master degree in sculptor?
Nandaraj: After finishing my studies I am planning to open a studio in Gujarat. You may be wondering why Gujarat and not Manipur. We cannot deny the fact that Manipur has rich art and culture with many great names in the field. But the sad part is the mass apparently does not really appreciate and value it much. A studio in Gujarat, is a platform to give better exposer of the rich art and culture and potentials of the region.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring sculptors from the NE?
Nandaraj: "Work hard believe in yourself" work sincerely, respect others, share knowledge to all and never stop to seek the knowledge whatever you require. Let us improve the quality and image of the North-East that it is a state full of potential.

See a photo gallery of Nongmaithem Nandaraj here

* Jimmy Leivon wrote this article for
This article was posted on February 27, 2015.

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