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The Bishop and his bare bodies

india Updated: Sep 26, 2009 23:06 IST
Rahul Karmakar
Rahul Karmakar
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Enter this bishop’s diocese with care. There will be nudity. In the scenic city of Aizawl, capital of the northeastern state of Mizoram, forgotten Mizo myths are coming alive on the canvas of an enterprising priest — in the nude.

Lasis, a wild female spirit believed to have roamed the mountains unclothed and mesmerised hunters to ensure them a kill, had vanished from the Mizo psyche. But a man of god is presiding over the return of Lasis in nude paintings.

“Nothing immoral,” insists 55-year-old Bishop Stephen Rotluanga. “The human figure is god’s best creation, but usually covered by man-made clothes. I have merely reproduced what God, the ultimate artist, has created,” says Rotluanga, head of the diocese, a Catholic administrative unit, at Aizawl. “Besides, human beings are animals too, and you don’t draw a cat or a horse with clothes on, do you?”

Rotluanga didn’t start off with nudes. The fourth among eight children, he began drawing landscapes, birds and animals after learning how to hold a chalk. The horse was his favourite, perhaps because the village where he was born — Sakawrtuichhun, 10 kilometres from Aizawl — got its name from a semi-natural trough where British soldiers collected water for their horses (sakawr) to drink.

The ‘sakawrs’ helped Rotluanga’s creativity gallop. In 1996, they took him to the Ontario College of Art and Design at Toronto, Canada.

“I pursued fine arts,” he says. “And my interest shifted gradually to figure drawings, mainly with dry media like charcoal.”

The fascination for the human body increased after he landed in the Italian art hub of Florence — home to Renaissance artists like Raphael, Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci — to study fine art.

“I would spend hours at their tombs in the hope that their creativity would rub off on me,” the Bishop recounts. It did; he went on to win a few prizes for reproducing some of Florence’s landmarks from odd angles.

But art took a backseat when Rotluanga returned to priesthood. There was little time for nudes after he was made Bishop in February 2002.

“I draw, but mostly cartoons and caricatures, which can be produced quickly even at work and while attending religious conferences,” he says.“I don’t draw or paint for money, but for spiritual gain, since drawing nudes is the closest you can go to the way God created the world and the creatures.”