The earliest examples of art in Assam (300BC-100AD) are the Mauryan stupas discovered at Suryapahar in Goalpara district though the 6th century AD first provided glimpses of intricate stone and terra cotta art. A beautiful doorframe at Da-Parbatia in Tezpur bears testimony to the influence of Sarnath School of Art of the late Gupta period. This is awarded to the interaction between the kingdoms of Kamarupa and Magadha.
Ancient temples and ruins such as Madan Kamdev near Guwahati portray divine figures, demigods, animals and erotica adhering to various art forms. But the finest artwork probably came with the advent of manuscript painting in the 15th century. Initiated by Sankaradeva, these manuscripts were aesthetic and had spiritual undertones. Hastividyarnava (treatise on elephants) and chitrabhagawat were the most significant That phase coincided with the reign of the Ahoms, under whose patronage an ornate style of manuscript paintings evolved incorporating art forms of Bengal, Rajasthan and of Rajputs and Mughals of western India.
British rule impacted Indian art. Besides providing a window to western styles, it initiated the formal pursuit of art through methodical study of painting sculpture and other art forms. But Assam remained immune to this change, and its art movement stagnated in the medieval mold. The 20th century dawned with a new breed of painters like Mukta Bordoloi, Suren Bordoloi and Jibeswar Barua honing their skills in art institutions in Kolkata and opening the region's first art school. But the art of these 'new wave' missed the local flavor.
Some artists without formal training developed distinctive styles drawn from traditional art forms. They include Mitradev Mahanta, Bishnu Prasad Rabha, Jugal Das, Ashu Dev, Sashi Bordoloi and Lambodar Hazarika. The next batch of artists like Shobha Brahma, Benu Misra and Nilpaban Baruah had a Vishwabharati background but strove for unique strokes. Brahma took over from fibeswar Barua in providing art education, helping establish the Government College of Art and Crafts aonpoud or an assembly line of talented artists. Misra, whose illustrations, sketches and sculptures are legendary, played a major role in founding the Gauhati Artists' Guild in 1976.
Another contemporary batch went to Mumbai for a different kind of schooling. It included Pranab Barua, Gouri Barman and Pulak Gogoi, artists with unusual concepts. Pranab Barua started an art school in Nagaon, the central Assam district that has yielded many an artistic talent.
Today, a number of established and young artists have taken Assam-flavored art to the world beyond. And they have been experimenting with mediums different from those of their mentors - graphic, psychedelic, installation and three-dimensional art for instance.