Sand art, like life, is temporary

.... says sand artist Sudarshan Pattnaik in a MiD DAY exclusive on his recent trip to Bangalore

Let's start from the beginning. How did it all start?
I have been doing sand sculpture since I was nine. My house in Puri(Orissa) is close to the beach. I would come to the beach and make sand temples. I saw lot of people taking interest in them and thought of promoting the art form.

You come from a humble background.
Yes. I struggled a lot in my childhood. My grandmother got R 200 per month as her pension which took care of seven to eight people. As a result of this, I couldn't study beyond the  sixth standard. I used to work in my neighbour's house and earn 50 paise every two to three days. Then I took out some time to practice sand art. I always wanted to do something different. Sand is a different medium.

what was it about sand that fascinated you?
It's a unique medium. It's soft and temporary.   Everyone asks me why I do something that's temporary, but life is also temporary. Sand and snow are the two media people like. When they see 20 to 30 feet sand sculpture which will only stay for a few weeks, they hasten to see it.

Had you not been from Puri, would you have ever become a sand artist?
I don't think so. The beaches of Puri have of course inspired me and my family has encouraged me. The beach is my main canvas.

You are credited with popularising sand art. Before you became a  popular figure, no one really   showed much interest in this form of art.
I tried developing the art form in India as the awareness was less. It's an internationally known art form and hugely recognised abroad.Today there are 10,000 sand artists in the country right from Guwahati to Rajasthan. I always tell people that I haven't started sand art. it's a natural art form which has existed for centuries. It was started in 14th century in Puri by Lord Balaram. The story goes that during the Ratha Yatra in Puri, a devotee of Lord Jagannath wanted to touch the chariot he was in, and couldn't. So he went to the beaches and made three sand chariots. That's when the real chariot stopped moving. The devotee was Balram Das and Jagannath came to the beaches for his darshan. 

Since you have also opened a sand academy in Puri where you train people in this unique art form, can you tell us how lucrative it is as a career?
It will certainly go the commercial way. Ten years ago, Sudha Murthy visited Puri from Bangalore and it was the biggest moment of my life. She was very impressed with my work and appealed to the people of Orissa to support me financially. She sent me R one lakh from her foundation which was a huge amount those days. People like these always encourage art. Besides there are the corporates.

Should sand art be part of the curriculum in art colleges?
Absolutely. It would certainly encourage artists. This art form is installation. India has the best of talents. The only thing amiss is scope.

You have a soft spot for Bangalore.
In Bangalore, many like sand sculpture and I  have many fans. Whenever they visit Puri, they find me on the beaches. During Ganesha Puja, I created a huge sculpture of Anna Hazare in Bangalore. The other day, when I was there, a child told her father that she's read about me in her GK book. 

Did you ever expcet to make it this big?
Never. Sometimes I don't understand this. Young people today like different forms of art. That could explain my popularity.

You have won several international awards.
I have participated in more than 476 international sand championships. I'm the first Indian to have won the world championship title in Berlin in 2008. Recently I won a gold medal in Moscow. Last year I won three medals in one championship by making a Save The Sea installation in the US as the oil leakage in the sea was a hot topic there. I make a sea king emerging from the sea saying, 'Save My Sea'.

Sudarshan being felicitated by President Pratibha Patil

Your works are topical and relevant. Has that contributed largely to your popularity?
I think so. I always read news from across the world and follow media closely. And I make installations that should be easy for peple to understand. When I went to Berlin, I found out  that an ice bear called Knut, very popular there, was suffering from the climate change.. So I made a globe and put Knut on top of that saying, 'Save my Family.' For that scultpure, I got the maximum votes, jury marks and won the championship title. People should be able to connect with what I make. When Obama won the Nobel prize, I was the first one to make a sculpture and people in the White House knew about it. I bring out the issues of  society and create social awareness and send out a message to people.

You also started sand animation on glass.
It's the latest thing, I started it five years ago. I saw it in Europe 15 years ago and started doing it here in groups. We need to learn all our lives. I also started using colour sand seven to eight years ago manufactured by us which is widely used in China.

How long does it take to make a big sculpture?
It takes six to seven hours of work per day for five to six days for a 30 to 40 feet high scultputre. I go to the beach every day and make something or the other.

And doesn't it sadden you to see them demolished?
No. Nor do I keep a count of the number of sculptures I make. The sculpture cannot stay too long because of the sand. For sand animation, you need dry sand and for sculptures, the wet variety. In Europe, the climate is conducive for the structures to stay intact even for a month.

What's been your favourite sculpture?
The Knut bear one which won me the  world championship title.

And of all the luminaries you have met including President Pratibha Patil, ex-President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and Amitabh Bachchan, what has been your most memorable interaction?
In 2005, when I won an award in Germany, I got an invitation to meet the President. It was a great moment for me. Metting Amitabh Bachchan was also amazing as I have made several of his sculptures. I met him when I received the The Pople of the Year award in  2009 by Limca Book of Records. He was also one of the 20 awardees along with Sachin Tendulkar. He appreciated my work.

Have fame, money and popularity changed you?
I always remember my life like it was 20 years ago. I was just an employee in a house. Today I'm famous to the extent that when I travelled to Goa for my honyemoon, people recognised me. My contemporaies abroad who have been in the profession for 50 years are overwhelmed about my popularity abroad.

What next?
I will have exhibitions of the pictures of my sand art that I have in four metros shortly. These images will be autographed by me. I'll start the exhibition in Bangalore.

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