THE BISHOP AND THE NUDE
A priest in Aizawl paints nudes and finds God in the human body. Other priests aren’t amused.
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.
BISHOP ROTLUANGAATHIS HOME IN AIZAWL