Art as a demystifying dialogue; bring different artistic practices to the common man


Odisha’s Jajpur’s golden grass artisans Prashanta Behera and Diptirani Behera blend paper origami style and golden grass to create an unusual sculptural narrative. Bibhu Nath and Purusottam Mohapatra experiment with papier-mâché. Odisha artist Kulu Ojha and established paddy craftswoman Chandrasena Majhi (from Nabarangpur in the state) reinterpret traditional divine carving. The international performance artist, painter and multimedia artist Satadru Sovan and the young dancer from Chhau Pradyumna Mohanta express different aspects of male identity, respectively playful and experimental and martial and traditional.

These and many more are part of the Barbil Art Project (BAP), a biannual collaborative art event conceptualized by renowned artist Jagannath Panda, organized by the Utsha Foundation and Arya Group, and curated by art critic Georgina Maddox. It aims to bring different artistic practices to the common man and to initiate a continuous dialogue between indigenous artists and artisans.

For the first time a month ago, the Barbil project saw the direct engagement of craftsmen with contemporary artists. Seven traditional craftspeople from Odisha and seven contemporary artists have come together to bridge the age-old creative divide and bring a new perspective to the state’s rich artisan heritage. Each of the seven collaborative installations and sculptures created, aptly titled “Rûpa-loka: Embodiment of Ideas,” told stories relevant to contemporary times using traditional state craftsmanship. The works of art are on permanent display at the Arya settlement of Barbil in the Keonjhar district.

“Odisha’s craft has a historical context, but since the designs haven’t evolved, artists don’t make a lot of money. This is also why many forms of crafts are dying. Therefore, unifying arts and crafts and involving traditional artists with their contemporary counterparts have become necessary for the craft to survive, ”says Panda, founder of the Utsha Foundation, which has worked with craftspeople for over. a decade now. It was launched with the aim of introducing various artistic practices in the non-artistic communities of Barbil, affected by mining, he adds.

An interesting installation is the eight-foot-long “Nabagunjara”, a contemporary interpretation of Vishnu Purana, done entirely with palm leaves, ink and gouache. Pattachitra artisan Bijay Parida and artist Anindita Bhattacharya collaborated to create nine avatars of Lord Vishnu who brought realization to the Pandavas by taking the form of nine animals and birds, to show them that they are unaware everything – Parida says he’s in possession of a palm leaf that’s over 100 years old. Bhattacharya, who works with miniatures and layers to juxtapose stories, added extinct animal species to the avatars to show wildlife in the contemporary scenario where human greed has stolen nature from its precious forests, animals and birds. In fact, nature is at the heart of many facilities, explains Panda.

Equally striking is “The Burning Forests” by Delhi-based artist Shivani Aggarwal and grass craftsmen Sabai from Mayurbhanj, Ranjita and Jadunath Dhal. They used the Sabai Grass to present a tale of forest degradation and the wildfires raging in Odisha. Subrat Behera, printmaker and painter, worked with Dokra artisans from Dhenkanal, Basanti Behera and Basanta Behera, to create an eight-foot-tall bronze sculpture of a faceless man holding a bald tree with empty nests. “I wanted to show that animals and birds are forced to migrate to safer lands as humans encroach on forests. The protagonist was left faceless because it could be anyone, you or even me, ”Subrat explains.

Meaningful collaborations like these, Panda explains, aim to put artists and artisans on an equal footing and train the latter to create their crafts in new ways. “The result was magnificent. As traditional artists now have a new take on the contemporaneity of their work, we plan to make this engagement an annual affair, ”says Panda, known for his mixed media paintings, drawings and sculptures.

Creative collaborators:

Anindita Bhattacharya with Talapatra artist Chitra Bijay Parida

Ankon Mitra with the artisans of the golden grass Prashanta Behera and Diptirani Behera

Bibhu Nath with papier-mâché artist Purusottam Mohapatra

Kulu Ojha with the artisan craftsman of the paddy Chandrasena Majhi

Satadru Sovan with the dancer Chhau Pradyumna Mohanta

Shivani Aggarwal with the grass craftsmen of Sabai Ranjita and Jadunath Dhal

Subrat Behera with the artisans of Dokra Basanta Behera and Basanti Behera

Each of the seven collaborative installations and sculptures created told stories relevant to contemporary times using traditional state craftsmanship.


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