Gurgaon-based artist reimagines a city’s cultural memory and presents us with his impressions of urbane life.
The exhibition comes nearly 10 years after Jagannath Panda’s last solo show and is on display at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum until 29 October 2017.
“History is enlivened by space”
It was some years ago in 2002 that Jagannath Panda commented:
For me, the mind is a non-figurative and non-defined space, capable of figuring memories, experiences and their related journeys in space, across diverse cultural locations – separating culture from artefact or recognising art in artefact.
With “Crystal Cities”, on view at The Special Project Space, Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum, Mumbai, Jagannath Panda reaches deep into these memories and experiences, to draw from the rapidly changing urban landscape that has surrounded him during his own personal journey – from the days of his youth, in his home state of Orissa to the city of his present, Gurgaon in the National Capital Region of India. Using symbolism from animals, plants, people, buildings and other elements that visually define the urbanised environment of today’s cities, Panda’s “Crystal Cities” brings together an eclectic collection of his recent paintings, sculptures and installations.
The dislocation and chaos that Jagannath Panda has sought to showcase in his present works are testimony to his belief that “history is enlivened by space” and they are a vivid visual commentary on the disparate worlds of the different cities that Panda has lived in.
An international artist
After completing his BFA in Bhubaneswar, Orissa and his MFA from MS University in Baroda, Gujarat, he was visiting researcher at the Fukuoka University of Education, Japan in 1997. He completed an MFA in Sculpture from the Royal College of Arts, London in 2002 and now lives and works in Gurgaon. Panda is the recipient of several scholarships and fellowships including the Lalit Kala Akademi Research Fellowship, the Orissa State Lalit Kala Akademi Scholarship and the Junior Research Fellowship awarded by the Government of India. He has won several accolades including the Centre Prize, CIIC London, the All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society Award, New Delhi, and the Alice Boner Memorial Award.
His work has been profiled both in India and internationally with Panda having participated in residencies such as the Khoj International Residency in Delhi and the Cité Internationale des Art in Paris. He has had multiple solo shows in Tokyo, Mumbai, New Delhi, London, Berlin and San Francisco, in addition to numerous national and international group shows. The artist’s works are on permanent display in several institutional collections such as at the GVK Mumbai International Airport, the Mori Art museum in Fukuoka, the Lalit Kala Akademi and the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi.
On city, environment and community
Panda’s concern for his environment and the community reflects in his work and is also evident in his involvement in creative collaborations like “We Are Here for a Reason” – the Barbil Art Project organised by the Utsha Foundation in Barbil, Orissa in 2014. This involved redefining an existing mining space through art with the shared engagement of professional artists and local folk. It is this synthesis of artistic creativity with a social, cultural and ecological awareness that can be seen in Panda’s past practice and in each of the artworks currently on display in “Crystal Cities”.
In a world where the word ‘crystal’ has a myriad meanings, when Panda was asked to comment on the genesis of the name of his show, the artist said:
In my work, I present myself like a witness to urban life – showing both the darker and the lighter sides in an equal space. I never try to project an idea of a different or an ideal world that we should be living in. When we think of a crystal we could be thinking of it very positively – as a stone that has the quality to absorb negative energy. In a spiritual context the crystal becomes more multi-layered with its fragility and its adaptability to different light conditions. It is this multi-faceted life of a continuously evolving metropolis that I am trying to depict in ‘Crystal Cities’.
The show features a mix of paintings and installations that are a conflation of the varied but familiar imagery of city life from claustrophobic human habitation to depletion of foliage and wildlife. Panda depicts the metropolis as a meeting ground of the inanimate and the animate world – a common space that is shared by both the concrete and wooden structures that represent modernity and the ghostly remnants of the animal and plant world that has been displaced by them.
In a series of ten mixed media artworks entitled “Dweller of a Metropolis I – X” Panda combines a multitude of materials, memories, found objects and images to create a series of dioramas that put on display diverse urban experiences. The artist uses these as platforms to make a hard-hitting social and economic commentary on a metropolis in transition and addresses issues from migration and habitat loss to urban living conditions and gender issues. In his own words,
It is a visual cross-section of the architecture of the city. It is a dissection of the house, slicing the living space so as to enable us to look inside – and that is how I think of it when I compose my piece. Even when I select the materials I want to use such as plywood, wallpaper, paint, textiles, cement and found objects- it’s more of a ritual for me to try and connect the various elements of the structure of our metropolis.
Mixing metaphors: the crystal and the drone, the animate and the inanimate
Panda has always been fascinated by the found object and in his current work there is a new character playing the role of stealthy adversary in his crystalline cityscape: the drone. Commenting on this, Panda says:
I use a lot of discarded toys in my work – many of them belonging to my son. It is a reflection of the infinite meanings attached to everyday objects in the modern world. Drones can be a harmless plaything on the one hand and on the other they can be invasive when used for surveillance and lethal when they are used in war.
Speed Metals is a 10-foot high mixed media canvas – a dynamic and futuristic composition with dozens of drones and other flying objects closing in on a fragmented cityscape while threatening to take over the remnants of beauty, aesthetics and life. Despite the abstraction in this work, the artist’s skill in draughtsmanship and meticulous drawing is evident, in the delicate treatment of interspersed motifs such as butterflies, trees, clouds and kaleidoscopic patterns. He tells Art Radar:
In my practice, my drawings and paintings have always been in the style of a miniature artist. Even in this series if you look closely at “Speed Metal” you will notice that the clouds are drawn in a style that I have derived from Buddhist ‘thangka’ paintings. With this delicate rendering and the depiction of rain, I want to show that hope still exists despite the apparent darkness of the work.
An unmistakable feature that has always been an inherent part of Panda’s practice has been his fascination for animals and birds. “I find them very theatrical and try to incorporate their auras, their expressions and their stances into my work,” says the artist. They are important players across this series, with crows appearing as silent observers on canvasses like Wonderland – I, a cockerel standing proudly on the steps of An Alchemy of Dwelling – I or with giant heads of birds arresting our attention in monumental installations like The Profiteer. About this larger-than-life half-mechanical and half-humanistic crow-figure holding a briefcase Panda says:
I identify “The Profiteer” with people I meet around me in my home city of Gurgaon, whose success, money and achievements are always being self-promoted and are on constant display. He stands in an almost theatrical pose with a strong and arrogant stance. But slowly you start discovering that his various components have been borrowed from different sources and that he has lost his identity.
The cross-cultural influences specifically of India and Japan are also clearly evident in Panda’s practice, from the intricate stylisation of flowers and trees reminiscent of Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints to his choice of embellishments and silk brocade in the mixed media works which have a decidedly Oriental aesthetic. Panda attributes this to his stay in Japan during his formative years, when he travelled across the country as a student, participating in a number of site-specific projects at museums. Commenting on his experiences, he says:
It was the first country I visited as a student of art and the exposure that I had to Japanese culture remains with me even today. I found a great sense of connection between India and Japan including a common belief between the Shinto faith and the Sanatana Dharma of Hinduism that spirit exists in every object. This strengthened my understanding of the ritualistic philosophy of placing an object in the right manner and at the appropriate moment in a composition. It has helped me in my spiritual journey to connect places, objects and people in a meaningful manner– it was my awakening as an artist.
“Crystal Cities” marks another milestone in Panda’s twenty-year long journey as an artist and he continues to explore the diversity of expressions using symbolism from the natural world as he did in past exhibitions like “The Action of Nowhere” (2009) and “Nothing is Solid” (2007). His work has always lived in a dichotomous world which is in many ways a suitable metaphor to describe our disparate lives in the modern cities of the 21st century. This duality is reflected in his expertise in both drawing and sculpture, the miniaturisation and the monumentality of his art, his use of mixed media and installations, his play on the symbolism of the animate and the inanimate, his juxtaposition of both matter and energy – all trying to unravel for the viewer of the work the complex fabric of our inhabited space.
- “Drawing Phantoms”: India’s Minam Apang – artist profile – October 2017 – in an exploration of the duality of life, the artist uses an ephemeral imagery to merge myth and reality
- A Healthy Indian Art Market: Saffronart Autumn Auction 2017 – round-up – September 2017 – Saffronart’s auction results show healthy demand for Indian modernist works
- “Notes on Labour”: India’s Praneet Soi – artist profile – August 2017 – Art Radar looks at the 46-year-old artist’s “Notes on Labour”
- Measuring the human impact on the land: Mumbai artist Hemali Bhuta – interview – May 2016 – Mumbai based artist Hemali Bhuta talks to Art Radar about her recently closed exhibition “Measure of a foot” at Project 88
- “The personal is the political”: Indian artist Prajakta Potnis at Mumbai’s Project 88 – February 2016 – Indian artist Prajakta Potnis explores trajectories connecting intimate and public worlds, and sketches those topographies influencing relationships in global politics and economic>
Subscribe to Art Radar for more on Indian contemporary art