Almost all the wooden sculpture works of Wangkheirakpam Umakanta of Samurou, prominently depicts the contemporary issues such as social restlessness, rape and killing of Thangjam Manorama, impacts of AFSPA, women immorality, crimes against woman and many others. In fact, his works vividly tell the aggrieved stories of the armed conflict prevailing in Manipur.
This 30-year-old young woodcraftsman has been honoured with the National Award for Master Craftsperson under the Ministry of Textiles, Government of India by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, former President of India in the year 2005 for his artistic woodcraft entitled “Terror”. The national award made him popular in nook and corner of the country but many had appreciated his works and talents even much earlier.
“I don’t know how to express, but I am very happy to receive this award and I think I have achieved what I wanted in my life,” said Umakanta in an interaction with the Manipur Times.
A THOUGHT ON ‘TERROR’
Regarding the theme of his award winning woodcraft entitled ‘Terror’, Umakanta said, “This woodcarving art depicts the fearful dream of a pregnant woman owing to various crimes and killings in Manipuri society. The various social crimes, killings, bad law and order situation in the state give worse impact to womenfolk. Women at home are always mentally restless to think about their husbands and sons who are out of home for work as life of the people in Manipur is uncertain due to bad law and order situation. The present day social crimes and killings occurring in the state leave a negative impact on the mind of women, particularly the pregnant women, who are supposed to be given mental rest and comfort. The children to be given birth by these women will have negative impact on their mindsets leading our society to more and more chaos”.
TYPES OF WOODS
Local wood varieties like Wang, Heijuga and Tairen and teak are mostly used for woodcarving works by Umakanta. Fully matured trees are cut down and logs are seasoned naturally for two to four months in order to preserve the original colour of wood. Wang wood never develops cracks before or after a carving and is lightweight, whereas Heijuga is weighty but does not warp, if properly seasoned. Carving is done in the ancient traditional motifs of Manipuri culture.
HIS GURU WAS HIS FATHER
Wangkheirakpam Umakanta Singh learned the skills of wood carving from his carpenter father after he completed Class X from Samurou High School. He started the art at the age of 14 years. He could not continue his studies as he gave most of his time to the woodcarving works of his father. Although, he took up the art for earning, he was inspired by the workmanship as well. He began his craft journey by exhibiting his creations at small exhibitions and events. Under a project known as ‘Guru Shikshya Parampara’, he is presently giving training to at least ten local boys on wood carving.
The men who are working in his work shed are so busy now as his woodcarving house has already committed to provide 100 pieces of wooden statue of Lord Pakhangba to be used as mementos in the prize distribution ceremony of the National Junior Mr India Championship to be held at Khuman Lampak. He will sell the finished products at Rs1800 per piece.
Umakanta was born on March 1, 1984 to W Ibotombi Singh and W Mani Devi of Samurou Awang Leikai. He is the youngest son among six children in the family. He is married and has now one son. Before his entry into the world of woodcarving, he was an artiste of Manipuri Pung (drum). Painting has been a passion for him since childhood.
Umakanta was once in the jail in the year 2009 under NSA on the alleged charge of having nexus with an underground group. He was released only when his innocence was proved in the court. The atrocities he personally experienced when he was in the police custody and various other social crimes and killings taking place in the state gave a great impact to his mind that almost all his woodcarving works depict the social issues of the state.
Taking down the Manipur Times to the lane of his personal tragic incident that took place in 2009, Umakanta recalled, “The day was one of my happiest days in my life as my project “Guru Shikshya Parampara”, submitted to the Ministry of Textiles, Government of India got selection and I returned home with a cheque to start my project work. I thought of sharing my achievement to my friends and relatives. On the way to Wangoi Bazar, an unidentified armed man stopped me and sought for a leave. On the way, we came across police commandos and an encounter took place between the police and the armed man all of a sudden. The man died in the encounter and I was arrested and tortured in the police custody for several days. My happiest moment of life turned into a saddest moment when the moment I met the armed man”.
“As the latest machines that other people are using for the woodcarving works are not available, it takes more time to finish the work. We use only ordinary tools for carving. We also do the designing part with our own hands. Due to this, we used to find it difficult to compete with the products of other states,” he added.
He had participated in the Republic Day parade held in New Delhi as a member of a team member of school children in 2000, national integration youth camp organised by National Youth Project at Pondicherry, 2003, 20th Surajkund Crafts Mela held at Surajkund (Faridabad) Haryana in 2006, Gandhi Shilp Bazar 2009 held at Palace Compound in 2009, 5th Hado Craft Bazar held at Yumnam Leikai in 2011. For his talent, Abdul Kalam, former president of India appreciated him.
According to Umakanta, he is all set to compete in the international level competitions and build up a medium gallery to showcase all his masterpieces.