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Sat, 25 Jan 2020

Northeast Today

Wahida Ahmed: weaving an odyssey of exploring and experimenting indigenous art

Wahida Ahmed: weaving an odyssey of exploring and experimenting indigenous art
November 13
13:46 2019

They say “pen is mightier than sword”, nevertheless Wahida Ahmed, an artist par excellence, exemplifies that colours, palettes and art forms are also an idiosyncrasy of mightiness. Her art forms are not just a splash of acrylic on canvas, it includes locally available materials carefully woven which tells the story of her motherland. A recipient of ‘Naari Shakti Award’ by Lions International in 2015, she amalgamates painting and poetry. She has two publications to her credit Bindu Alekh Bindu and Jibon Dristi, a publication of Assamese poetry. In conversation with Mumeninaz Zaman, the artist gives a deeper insight into her life and work.

As a child, Wahida Ahmed has been an ardent sports person. Born in Sibsagar, Assam, she grew up with the stories of Shankardev and Azaan Fakir. Wahida reminiscences, “When I was a kid, I was fascinated by the decorations and architectural structure of the masjids, where I used to go for my Arabic lessons, the minars (pillars), patterns and detailing of the artworks created an inquisitiveness within my mind. Even after reaching a certain age, when we are refrained from going to masjid I would break the rules and secretly visit the masjid to devour the divine beauty. I was equally influenced by the temples and the Shivadoul and all the historical places in Sibsagar, which have created a deep impact on my mind.”

Having completed her diploma in Fine Arts, she exhibited her first piece at a junior national art competition at Srimanta Sankardev Kalakshetra in 2005 and won the commendation award there. Since then she kept soaring higher. Her artwork has been exhibited in both national and international platforms showcasing the diversity of the Northeast.

Apart from the brushes and canvas, Wahida choose to embark on an unconventional path. She says, “I always have the urge to do something with the local community. Hence, I started experimenting and exploring the various materials available in our community. Materials like bamboo, thread, yarn, jute, charcoal, sand, terracotta became my art palette.”

This also inspired her to conceptualise the art section at the Dwijing festival held in December 2018 at Chirang, BTAD, Assam. Wahida’s project Blurred Perimeters was a part of the festival that showcased art installations which was led by her along with her team of artists from Northeast. The art illustrations provided the visitors a vision of the state’s cultural richness, tribes and their lifestyle which was deciphered with the use of various materials like bamboo, sand, hay and thread.

Blurred Perimeters is an effort to bring out a collective forum of artists from the eight states of Northeast, who despite having all the potential remains unexplored. “The idea behind the concept of Blurred Perimeters is blurring all the perimeters like caste, creed, language, community, geographical boundaries and inequalities existing in the society. It is an honest endeavour to erase or blur the differences and an effort to counter the growing culture of hatred and to unite people across the globe for the sake of humanity,” Wahida informs. The Blurred Perimeters is a collaborative event of The Raza Foundation and India International Centre, New Delhi.

Her experiments with art is to communicate with the common man, sometimes giving messages or putting questions. Hence her issues are focused on socio-cultural, landscape, beliefs, history, politics, pedagogy, ecology, human, society and the surrounding. “My issues are visual narratives which are woven from both modern and traditional context. I believe when I am making something people should be able to relate or connect with it. It should have a message which can influence the spectator. So it is my duty to make them understand what I am trying to portray,” Wahida affirms.

Her artwork is the outcome of the questions that arises in her mind. Terrorism is a subject, which she wanted to demystify. After the attacks on the (9/11) twin towers and (26/11) Mumbai attacks, she was in deep anguish. As such, she turned towards the Quran where she came across the verse that says, “If you kill an innocent human, it is as though you have killed the entire humanity.” Hence the teachings are somehow being misinterpreted with the span of time. Moreover, she has been working on this subject weaving together elements from history and politics. Pursuant to this she made an art piece titled- “The Red Carpet”, where she used floral patterns, Persian motifs which resembles migration and identity, and it also includes the images of twin tower, the Taj hotel, Mumbai and one scene was from Assam where one tyre was burning from the serial blast in Guwahati on 30 October 2008. She tried to portray all images of what was happening around the world contrary to the verses of the Quran.

Assam is termed as ‘Sankardev-Azaan Or Dekh’ (the land of Sankardev and Azaan Fakir), for the religious harmony that prevailed in the medieval Assam. Brainstorming on this harmony, Wahida carved out an art installation, that she portrayed in an exhibition held at Delhi’s Akar Prakar Contemporary art gallery in the recent past. The title of the exhibition was ‘Stories of Lands and Lines’, the main focus of the exhibition was Northeast’s isolation from mainland India, its diversity, borders and territories.

Her installation comprised of an architectural structure of the ‘Kaabah’- the most sacred site of Islam in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The twist is when viewed from a distance the visual effects resemble the Kaabah, but a closer view gives the detailing of the structure which resembles the ‘Triratha’, (an architectural layout of the temple). “My idea was to conjoin both the structures to send the message of peace and harmony,leaving aside our differences”, says Wahida.

We see what we want to see

“We see what we want to see”: Thread wrapped in Iron Frame and Terracotta


The structure is a large iron frame entirely wrapped in black thread with the poetry- ‘Hindu ki Musalman eke Allah’r Farmaan’ composed by Azaan Fakir engraved around it. The material used to write the poetry was terracotta. “The terracotta being a natural thing tends to break, so here I tried to bind those broken parts using red thread. Using the red thread is also about the bonding like we weave things with thread to mend it,” Wahida adds. The purpose of writing the verses around the structure was an attempt to create the act of circumambulation that people perform at the Kaabah or temples or any other sacred sites.

Sand on paper

Sand on paper

Wahida says, “We talk about same god same creation, then why do we need to differentiate, so I thought that particular dogma is forgotten by our people so my main motto is to give a reminder to the people of this land that we have grown up with those kinds of ideology, and it should not make any difference with us.”

The Kaabah and Triratha structure titled as -“We see what we want to see”, was accompanied by paper works where she used soil on paper to write the verses of Shankardev-Azaan. Interestingly, she used the soil from her district Sibsagar where Azaan Fakir settled down after migrating from Baghdad. “Soil is like powder, I apply it on the surface and then erase it with an eraser to carve out the verses. The idea of erasing is to signify that with time everything will fade away, so it is a metaphorical gesture which shows fading peace and harmony,” Wahida explains.

At present Wahida is working with another medium- Charcoal, which is formed by burning the wood. Here again, the charcoal art is done on paper by erasing it. Wahida has created few Persian carpets using charcoal on paper, the visuals narratives that seems like a carpet from a distance, tells the story of this land and its people from a closer view. She states, “There is one carpet in which I used the faces of people belonging to the char community I clicked the faces of the people and I portrayed them in the carpet and titled it as- Existential Crisis.”

Existential Crises: charcoal and sand on paper

Existential Crises: charcoal and sand on paper


Wahida is the founder of the Easel Art Foundation which she has curated to work with the local community and to create an awareness about art among the children. She has participated at India Art Summit at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi in 2009 and 2011, World Art Games Annual Exhibition at Izmir, Turkey 2012 and Croatia 2013, this was followed by her participation at the Rotterdam Art Festival, Holland. In recent years she has taken part in art events held in Dubai, Indonesia and Vietnam representing the country.

In future, Wahida tends to explore more such materials which are available locally of which Hyacinth or meteka and jute or mora paat, are on her bucket list.


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