EXHIBITION - Jagannath Panda (Jun 29-Jul 15, 2006) :

Jagannath Panda was trained as a sculptor at the B.K. College of Art and Crafts, Bhubaneswar where I was the Principal (1984-94). I do not remember anything specific of him to merit mention; however what I preserve of him is his utmost sincerity and active participation in building the college profile. He had a tremendous zeal to learn and an eye for details along with a penchant for creative upsurges and community studio practices. I remember how he used to spend long hours in the night at the makeshift wood kilns firing terracotta in the company of other art students of the Sculpture Department. When his friends got bored or sleepy, Jagannath barked as a street dog. The imitation was so natural that it provoked other stray dogs and motivated his friends to howl in chorus. Those years I used to work late in the college and did spend nights in my office study room. Jagannath's candid outbursts never annoyed me, on the contrary, I treated them as wake-up calls to descend down and join them in their work-celebration. Art in the college was indeed a celebration of life and Jagannath had plenty at that formative age.

Jagannath had impressed me with his keen craftsmanship and quality for constructions. He used to open a stall in the Chitra Mela, annual Art Fair of the college where his hand printed New Year greeting cards and terracotta figurines were very cute with a sense of minimalist overview. After over more than a decade, when I saw his minimalist paintings comprising fish, house, iron, shoes, matchsticks, books, chairs and postcards, I did not pay much attention to what his art critics and connoisseurs had to say linking his scholarship sojourn to Japan, I was overwhelmed by the response of his subconscious memory.

In 1992, Jagannath left for Baroda to pursue higher studies in Sculpture. He used to visit me with photographs of his latest works whenever he returned to Bhubaneswar on holidays. At Baroda Jagannath picked up all fashionable art jargons and filled his mind with Derrida and Foucault. He was always preoccupied with critical thoughts about art and artists. With slight provocation he would pick up arguments that had no end. However, I noticed a great change in his approach; his woodcarvings from the Baroda period were poised and solid, elemental and primitive. I felt a dramatic change in both form and function that bridged the seemingly vast distance between classical modernism and a more primitive past. Thus began in all earnestness his struggle for artistic survival and search for a visual language.

When I was the Secretary at the National Academy of Art (Lalit Kala Akademi), New Delhi, I got him a scholarship in Art History and invited him to continue his search in a new environment. 'Art History' he rebuffed, and I had to convince him that it was a unique opportunity to rediscover himself in Delhi - a world of cosmopolitan internationalism and a window to the other art worlds outside. Jagannath joined me in New Delhi and we stayed together in the official bungalow of the Secretary. The number of inmates gradually increased and they were all old students of B.K. College. Even after I left the Akademi we did not break our group but shifted to a rented accommodation in Delhi and continued with the community life. When artists live together they share their ideas, concepts and creative efforts. To meet the Secretary, a number of important artists used to frequent the mess and they got to know the residents and recognized their talents. Sooner or later these contacts were of great value and help to them.

Jagannath was a very responsible member of the mess. He had by then developed a keen taste for good design in textile and crockery and for cooking. For my British Council Exhibition (1995) he got the frames of my paintings treated to an antique-look which was quite innovative and most Delhi artists got enamoured with his craftsmanship. His square granite sculpture, a kind of archaeological excavation where he went reverse instead of building up, earned him a National Award. I consider that a well deserved recognition at such a young age, which channeled him to a new direction.

I took Jagannath to many of my friends who matter in the field of art and culture in Delhi. Rashna Imhasly Gandhi, the daughter of famous art collector and art activist Kekoo Gandhi and her husband Bernard Imhasly, ex-diplomat, now journalist and author gave Jagannath much needed support so that after his return from London, he could walk into their farmhouse in Aya Nagar to be a neighbor of Vivan Sundaram.

While Jagannath was on the brink of loosing all hope of survival in New Delhi and looking for a job in Delhi schools, Japan Foundation offered him a scholarship to go for higher studies in Japan. This opened for him possibilities in minimalist paintings. His vision widened and understanding deepened and he became more and more conscious of his creative self and its potential.

Back in Delhi from Japan, Jagannath found his life partner Pranati, a former college mate then studying post graduation in applied arts at Delhi College of Arts. The relation resulted in marriage and he left for London with her on a two-year doctoral study at the Royal College of Art on an Inlac scholarship. The two years stay in London was a great opportunity to experiment in new styles and possibilities to expand. With his sculptures he explored materials like paper machie, gas, light and polythene with steel fabrications. Jagannath's repertoire widened and contacts grew. The artist in him became more and more confident. Pranati though did not add new to his art, she made his life smooth and aspirations manifold. I spent a few days with the couple in their one-room flat in London and was convinced of Jagannath's growing convictions and commitments.

Back in Delhi after his scholarship in London, Jagannath embarked upon vigorous work style, the diction between sculpture and painting dwindled and led to a new vocabulary that took the Delhi art world in a stride. His work became more and more contemplative, witty and issue based. He converted quite tactfully the domain of popular culture of kitsch into soft and hazy space where equilibrium and equivalence reign in abundance.

Jagannath, now the painter makes accessible areas that long lay outside the realm of artistic discussion. The introduction of the stimulative, suggestive and the seductive in his paintings could be recognized as artistic constructions: they neither depict reality nor represent pure fiction but his life's experience in a mythical marathon. His myth always is not legendary but could be for example the story of water scarcity in Delhi. Jagannath to me appears as a relentless artist who traveled a distance and is seriously working on the artistic and linguistic investigations - The journey that started three and half decades ago from his native place Kotilingi and passed through Bhubaneswar, Baroda, Delhi, Japan and London. An artist's journey is indeed a restless search negotiating with changing relationships between object and subject, material and form, the tradition and the modern in a perennial perspective process. It never ends. He has many more distances to travel and worlds to explore.

- DINANATH PATHY, Director, Alice Boner Institute, Varanasi

Need help? For more information on Indian Art, please see our Art Guide. For help with buying through Saffronart please click here. If you have any other questions, please contact us.