Laishram Phonindro had given scant attention to easy earning out of art but rather living for the arts and art teaching as he perceives.
By Sanjoo Thangjam
“An artist is not paid for his labour but for his vision”, said James Abbott McNeill Whistler RBA (1834–1903), an American painter who was a leading proponent of the credo “art for art’s sake”. His saying points to certain value found in all arts and the sharing of perspectives through the visual medium. However, in the context of Manipur, I can think of one artist whose life and times in unbelievable ways comes close to the lines uttered by James Abbott McNeill Whistler for this artist from the state had given scant attention to easy earning out of art but rather living for the arts as he perceives.
Laishram Phonindro Singh was born on February 15, 1942 at Awangjiri, a remote village located in the Imphal West District of Manipur. He is the 2nd son of five sons and a daughter born to L. Ibotombi Singh and late Henam ningol Laishram Bidhu Devi. Being born in an influential family, his siblings were exposed to the outside world from the early days. Since his childhood, he was interested in painting and other technical works. Due to many hardships his family had to face in the remote village, they shifted their home to Phoijing Chingmang Awang, Nambol in Bishnupur District and settled down there.
During his early years in Nambol High school, he was known by his teachers for his talent in arts and was assigned for the painting of the school activities, celebrations, etc. Under the guidance of one of his teachers late RK Modhusana, he decided to step forward in this field of art. Later he learned from RKCS and H Gouro singh in early school days. He joint many students service camp held at many parts of remote village and hill schools under the guidance of the Education Director TN Bahuguna and the deputy Director Th Modhu Singh at Tungjoy in 1956. He was popular for making weather-cock and rain-gauge and deployed to the schools and colleges (1950 -1959). Phonindro was awarded in many competitions during his school days.
In 1958, he went to Nabadweep, West Bengal with his mother and there he painted the portrait of Rajrisi Bhagyachandra.
After completing his high school in Manipur, he was admitted to Government College of Arts and Craft, Calcutta in 1965 and completed 5 year G.D, Art (specialized in Life, Nature and Mural). During his graduation in fine arts, he learnt portrait painting from world famous artist like Atul Bose and many art Gurus of Bengal.
After graduation, he learnt sculpture at Sir JJ School of Arts, Mumbai and also completed M.A. Ed (Master of Arts education) from the same institute. This helped him a lot in imparting education and arts to the students. As part of his sculpture training, he learnt fibre glass moulding and casting from John D Mello in Mumbai.
After completing his formal education and training in the field of Arts, he was selected by MPSC and joined Regional College of Medical Science (RIMS), Imphal Manipur as an artist in the anatomy section from 1972-1975. He realized his profession does not suit him, he quit the job and joined Imphal Art College, Imphal Manipur as a lecturer from 1975-1988. Under his guidance, first artist camp was held at Ukhrul, Chandel, Churchandpur and Jiri in 1976. As a result many students were introduced in the field of Art Education.
During the transition periods, he was working as an artist under the leadership and guidance of renowned Manipuri Classical dancer Sabita Mehta in the Parimal Academy Cultural Research Centre in Mumbai. His sketch works representing the steps of different forms of Manipur classical dance, pung cholom, etc are enormous. Innumerable sketches of Manipuri Jogoi & Pung cholom posed by the renowned gurus were published by Kalakhetra (Madras). Many are yet to be published. Uncountable illustrations in the form of sketches and paintings were done during his student life as well as during his stay in Mumbai and Calcutta. Many paintings and life-like portraits were displayed in many parts of India and taken abroad.
Other than artist as a profession, he was a member of Manipur State Kala Academy from 1972 to 1990. He was Founder member of Arts Society Manipur and also Public Theatre Artist Association, Nambol, Manipur (a centre of Manipur dance, martial arts, drama and performing arts).
In 1988, he joined Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya as an Art teacher and sincerely worked for the welfare of the students. He Participated in various programme as resource person in state level, NCERT, and National School of Drama, Delhi and attended many art exhibitions, workshops, orientation courses, seminars held at various places of India as an educational programme. He retired from JNV in the year 2006.
After his retirement, he continued his works in the fields of art tirelessly with the support of his wife Laishram (ongbi) Nungshitombi Devi and their five children. He provides free arts class to the young children and students every Sundays and holidays. He has done many fine art paintings, innumerable portraits. Later he was more devoted to sculpture and has done many sculptures. He is the Pioneer in colour fibre glass casting in the state.
Meira Paibi statue (10 ft high; fibre glass medium) at Maibam Leikai, Singjamei, Imphal, Khamba Thoibi Statue (fibre glass medium) at Moirang Thanjing Haroubung, Moirang, sculpture of H. Atulchandra presently installed at Manipur University Library, Maharaj Rajrisi Bhagyachandra (Life size), sculpture of Late Arambam Samarendra (at Chana Lamlei), Bir Tikendrajit (at Hojai, Assam), statue of Pukhrambam Kajao (freedom fighter) at kamong, Nambol, and many others, were few of his works.
On May 13, 2012, he received Kala Bhusan award from Manipuri Sahitya Parishad, District Vayoshrestha Sanman award presented by District Social Welfare Office, Bishnupur, government of Manipur, for excellence in the field of “Fine Arts” on the occasion of Observance of International Day of Older persons, 2013. He also received INDIRA GANDHI NATIONAL EXCELLENCE AWARD 2016 for excellent work in Fine Art presented by School games association and world games federation. In 2019, he received “Thoibi Award” (Plastic Creative Award), in the field of art and sculpture by The Cultural Forum, Manipur. Recently in 2022, he was nominated for the Manipur state Governors award by the Manipur state art and culture forum.
In the last two decades of his career, he has immensely contributed in the field of arts and culture and still continuing his works of art as part of his life. And the journey of creative world continues to inspire Laishram Phonindro.
(Sanjoo Thanjam is a journalist based in Imphal)