Suman, who hails from Siraha, was largely inspired by his grandmother (and other women in his village) to take up Mithila art. He was fascinated by the Kohbar paintings drawn on the walls for newlywed couples during their wedding night and the Aripan—a floor painting drawn with rice paste on mud floors in the house during Deepawali. Eventually, Suman decided to continue his grandmother’s legacy and take up the tradition of this uniquely distinct style of art.
The Mithila art genre is deeply rooted in nature. Every aspect of nature—from the plants, trees to the animals—are some form of motifs alluding to complex ideas about life and human experience. Prof. Beerendra Pandey writes, “Suman’s paintings reflect images of a myriad of plants and life forms of the Terai which encapsulate a host of meanings. For instance, the lotus as the seat of the unblemished and pure feminine form, bamboo as a lineage, roots and male form, and the kadamba tree as a motif for love.” Similarly, fishes and crocodiles symbolize fertility, turtles are signs of lover’s reunion and stability, parrots signify intelligence, and peacocks are metaphors for beauty.
Artworks like ‘Ecological Balance’, ‘Wildlife And Nature in Balance’, ‘The Love Rasa In Nature’ and ‘Aesthetic Sentiments In Nature’ all pay homage to natural surroundings. The Kalpavriskhya—a wish-granting tree—is a continuing motif in his work, shown to be thriving and blossoming circularly in most of his paintings within this series. The Kalpavriksha tree is a focal point of an intricate Mithila aripan.
Thus, it’s easy to see that Suman’s paintings are a continuous exploration of a deeply rooted relationship with nature.
Even though Suman works under the traditional genre, he doesn’t just stick to telling the stories of the past. A lot of Suman’s pieces in this exhibition are about extremely relevant issues—mainly the COVID-19 pandemic. With ‘Scapegoating Bats For COVID’, he questions the cynicism that was pointed towards bats for being the root cause of the pandemic. Suman believes that bats were simply used as ‘scapegoats’ and that people failed to realize other issues that have been building up the risks for the pandemic, namely habitat destruction, depletion of natural resources, overpopulation, etc.
Three of his works ‘Lockdown Lessons I’, ‘Lockdown Lessons II’ and ‘COVID Lessons’ are also refections he’s made during the time of the pandemic. ‘Lockdown Lessons I’, shows people locked inside their houses, their faces covered with masks unable to make contact with the outside world. ‘Lockdown Blues II’, on the other hand, shows the outside—the roads, the buildings, the temples—devoid of any human life, looking haunted.
As for ‘COVID Lessons’, it satirizes the import of oxygen cylinders via airplanes while trees—that naturally give out oxygen—are cut (in large numbers) day by day in the name of economic development.
Suman’s work may feature some bleak narratives like the Kali Yuga or COVID-19 but there are equally buoyant portrayals of human life in his work. Artworks like the Chhath Puja, Ganesh Puja, and Dashami Mela, show a vibrant ambiance where people are have come together in celebration. Sangeeta Thapa, founder/director at SAG writes, “But not all is doom and gloom. Suman’s narratives also focus on the coming of age, awareness, erotic desire, love, and the harmony of nature.”
Lastly, in ‘Mithila Cosmos: The Cycles Of Time’, Suman’s works employ the great artistic traditions of the Mithila genre to sketch not only the mystical stories within the Hindu mythology but also the present trials and tribulations of mankind.