THE BISHOP AND THE NUDE

A priest in Aizawl paints nudes and finds God in the hu­man body. Other priests aren’t amused.

India Today - - SOCIETY - By Kaushik Deka

The bishop of Aizawl finds God in the naked hu­man body. Stephen Rotlu­anga, the first Mizo to be or­dained a bishop, cel­e­brates nu­dity in his paint­ings as “the hu­man form is the crown­ing glory of God’s cre­ation”. The 60-year-old priest has a ra­tio­nale for his pur­suit of the naked truth: “God cre­ated us naked. Only civil­i­sa­tion clothed us.”

Two life-size can­vases greet the vis­i­tor at Rotlu­anga’s Aizawl home— one of a semi-nude woman and the other of two naked men near the door of his study. How did the priest be­come an artist? Rotlu­anga says his mother, a vegetable ven­dor, coaxed him at six, per­haps to keep him oc­cu­pied, to draw a per­son stand­ing in the mar­ket. At school, he used to sketch his teach­ers. “I drew other things too, such as birds and land­scapes. My fa­ther, who worked for the Canada-based Holy Cross So­ci­ety, was a great in­flu­ence. I was drawn to films like Ben-hur and The Ten Com­mand­ments and used to draw their posters. This is how the priest and the artist melded,” he says.

“Peo­ple want to know how I felt when a naked woman was stand­ing in front of me. Many are shocked to know that a priest does nude paint­ings. But I’m just a stu­dent of art and for me, the only con­cern was the per­fec­tion of my art,” says Rotlu­anga, adding that he has no fear of ex­hibit­ing his paint­ings. How­ever, his works are not for sale. “This is a spir­i­tual jour­ney. It’s my trib­ute to God’s mas­ter­piece. I can’t do com­merce with it,” says the priest.

Rotlu­anga won first prize at a poster paint­ing com­pe­ti­tion while he was at St An­thony’s School in Shil­long. He later went to Ban­ga­lore for in­ter­me­di­ate stud­ies at St Joseph’s Col­lege in Ban­ga­lore in 1970 and com­pleted his grad­u­a­tion from Christ Col­lege in 1972. In Ban­ga­lore, he met noted painter Balan Nam­biar and be­gan tak­ing pri­vate lessons from him.

In 1981, Rotlu­anga was or­dained a priest at Cham­pai in Mi­zo­ram. In 1993, the Holy Cross So­ci­ety of­fered him an op­por­tu­nity to study art at the On­tario Col­lege of Art and De­sign, Canada. “It was there that I be­gan to de­velop a great in­ter­est in hu­man fig­ures. In 1999, I vis­ited Florence and painted with live mod­els,” he says, point­ing to­wards the paint­ings at the door. Does he still paint with live mod­els? Pat comes the re­ply: “Where is the time? Since 2002, the year I was or­dained a bishop, I have never had the time to do nudes.”

Rotlu­anga’s fel­low priests aren’t as en­thu­si­as­tic. “What he did ear­lier was as a stu­dent of art. He must not paint nude paint­ings now as it’s un­be­com­ing of a bishop,” says Arch­bishop of Im­phal Rev­erend Do­minic Lu­mon.

KAUSHIK Deka/www.in­di­a­to­day­im­ages.com

BISHOP ROTLUANGAATHIS HOME IN AIZAWL

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