Hidden in Textiles: A tale of conflict, revival & resurgence

Hidden in Textiles: A tale of conflict, revival & resurgence
Iris Yingzen- Sophy Lasuh’s latest offering is a poignant tale of a single woman’s quest to preserve and revive an old indigenous but dying Naga tradition


Vishü Rita Krocha
Kohima | May 3


Emphasizing that all our stories about culture and traditions are hidden in our textiles, filmmaker Sophy Lasuh has remarkably put across this point in her latest film called ‘Iris Yingzen’ that talks about a single woman’s efforts in trying to preserve and revive an old indigenous dying Naga tradition. Shot in Tuensang, the short film is about a woman painter, whose painting can be any Naga’s landscape – ‘Conflict, Revival, Resurgence.’


Iris Yingzen became a serious painter after encountering a few unforgettable conflict-related incidents in her life one of which was about a really good weaver, who stopped weaving because of her only son’s disappearance, whom, she later learnt was killed. Like any other Naga woman in the olden days, who would finish every field work, household chores and sit down to weave, the news of her son’s killing was brought to her just as she was about to start weaving.


These incidents, apart from making the painter sad, also deeply affected her as she would explain in the film. “If you see my paintings, it will be very dark and gloomy and that is how I painted the loom,” she says. However now, she wants to give hope through her paintings while expressing that, “we can’t be full of dark things. Too much of pessimism is not good.” The art is visibly dying but the painter is passionately doing her bit to preserve and revive it by using Nettle as a canvas for her painting.


The Painter goes on to say in the film that Road Shows have done so much good for her as it has revived so many dying arts while particularly making mention of Nettle Fiber which is used for several other purposes other than weaving.


Nettle is also referred to as a ‘wonder plant’ for its medicinal properties while as a fabric; stinging nettle was used to make German Military Uniforms during the World War. However, although Nettle was also traditionally used by Naga women as a material for weaving, it is a very under researched subject with hardly any literature about it.


Sophy Lasuh observed that so many people have written about Nagaland but what’s been done was recycled again and again and somehow nettle just got lost. She felt that having to follow at least two agricultural cycles for the research on nettle could be one of the reasons why there is so little written about it. “There is hardly anybody who knows about nettle fiber even among the weavers,” she further noted. With Nettle Fibre as her Ph.D topic, Sophy Lasuh will also be one of the first individuals to research on the subject.


Mention may be made here that “Iris Yingzen” is an entry for the video contest initiated by the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region, Government of India under the theme “Resurgent Northeast” focusing on development and developmental changes, and is also one of the short films that she is doing as part of the series of “Naga Women as Preservers of Indigenous Knowledge”.


With “development” as the keyword for the video contest, Sophy Lasuh felt that not every development has to come from the government- “it struck me why do we always associate development with the government?” ‘I chose to do the film on Iris Yingzen because I want to tell stories that are unknown and unheard of, but are still bringing change in their areas – like Iris, who is doing her art out of passion and genuine concern’, she expressed.


She further recalled that in the year 2005, Neiphiu Rio, who was also the then chief minister of Nagaland, had made a statement saying, “Nagaland has at least 2 lakh women weavers. If each weaver can produce 5 marketable shawls in a year, Nagaland can have an annual turnover of Rs. 50 crores.” Substantiating to this, Sophy Lasuh strongly felt that there is potential of Naga textiles and strongly emphasized that we need to encourage those women to continue weaving but at the same time, be cautious of the cheap looms that some societies and groups are now producing. “As women, we can all do our part to preserve this dying art”, she impressed upon.


In the film, she also used the colour brown since it’s about textiles and played with minimalism throughout the story. Stating that she loves character driven stories, Sophy Lasuh said that strong characters reveal depths that writing does not always support. “And usually in all my stories, women are always the main characters,” she expressed.
Through the film, Iris Yingzen has also received a number of 10 painting orders.