‘Like walking into a time capsule!’, a comment recorded in the visitor’s book expressed.
The ‘Ki Jingkynmaw, Gisik-Ra-Ani, Kynmo Tympang’ Exhibition was an event organised to celebrate Meghalaya’s fifty-first year of statehood, between the 19th and 21st January, 2023. It was carried out as a joint collaboration between the Department of Information and Public Relations (DIPR), Government of Meghalaya and the Northeast India AV Archive with a vision to celebrate Meghalaya’s rich and elaborate history and heritage of its culture, language and tradition. The exhibition provided a platform for the works of the two leading and almost trailblazing photographers from the state, Aly Shadap and Ahmed Hossain to be displayed. A spectrum of photographs from several collections of photographs collected over the three years of our existence were displayed in order to explain and demonstrate the cause and the work of The Northeast India AV Archive. The photographs range from the earliest ones taken in the latter half of the nineteenth century by the colonial administrators and the Ghosal Brothers to the most recent black-and-white family photographs taken in the late twentieth century.
One wall was lined with photographs of the Great Assam Earthquake taken by Thomas La Touche, an officer with the Geological Survey of India in 1897. The collection covered crisp details of the physical state of the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo Hills after the major quake and proceeding aftershocks, and the predicament of people who were homeless, grief stricken, wounded and afraid after the occurrence. The photographs tell a thousand stories about the sentiment that pervaded the hills during the disaster, and the before-and-after photographs taken across the hills emphasise the losses that were suffered. The photographs serve as a first-hand account of information about a colonised community who bore the brunt of two forces which reinforced each other - colonial rule and a massive disaster.
The adjacent wall was lined with postcards printed by the first Christian missionaries who came to the hills, and by the pioneering photographers based in the region, the Ghosal Brothers. The postcards were printed in the late 1800s and the early 1920s, and carry pictures of the landscape in the hills during the time, the indigenous communities living in the hills, buildings of colonial administration, weekly markets and more of the akin. The postcards are gold sources of information for anthropologists, historians and other scholars who study the landscape, terrain, milieu, history, practice and culture of the people living in the region. They are purely reminiscent of a time and the face of a place that exist today only in print.
On the other walls, hung collections of family photographs which told endless stories of a time which now exists only in the memory of a select few. The places in those photographs now exist in a different state, and our oral history interviews with the contributors and a few persons in the photographs related the vast distinctions between the time and places preserved in those photographs and those that exist today. They look back in time and at the photographs too, with fondness and lovely memories laden with laughter, challenges, lessons and people whom they loved dearly. There were lovely photographs of family and school trips displayed, of a pilgrimage taken to Jerusalem, of a day out on a plane, Holi celebrations and more. The photographs serve as an immediate source of information about the livelihoods, the habits and the nature of an ever-transitioning culture as it existed then. A favourite bit to children, within the family section was the lightbox on which positive slides were displayed. The contributions displayed in the Family Photograph section were made by families of Matsiewdor War and Dondor War, Shiv K Pradhan, Priyal Agarwalla, Ehunrisa Sumer and D Sumer, Herman Lyngdoh and Pearlymon Lyngdoh Lyngiong Ryntathiang, and JC Nampui (Late).
Aly Shadap and Ahmed Hossain’s photographs of the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo Hills, and their people were displayed along the walls of three wide aisles. Their portrait photographs, photographs of the weekly markets held across the Khasi and Jaintia Hills, those of the famous ‘Siat Teer’, plants endemic to Meghalaya, and more which were displayed in the exhibition received a pleasing acclaim from every visitor. Aly Shadap’s slides were displayed on a slide projector, which very quickly became the most popular space with children, within the walls of the exhibition space. The two photographers began their journeys in photography out of sheer love for the art, and their photographs capture exactly that: pure passion for the craft which hardly sought any reward. They were presented awards on Meghalaya’s State Day by DIPR, Government of Meghalaya.
Other photographs displayed in the exhibition include photographs of Shillong, lakes and rivers of Meghalaya, and buildings of colonial administration. There were photographs of polo races, and labourers who earned their wages by transporting people from one location to another on their backs, as if in the model of the present-day taxi. The exhibition was a successful endeavour to celebrate Meghalaya by celebrating its history, its cultures and its people.