September 15, 2017


By Amrita Varma 

It was a beautiful monsoon evening, when I met Jagannath Panda in his studio in Gurugram in Delhi NCR. Jagannath and I go way back from my advisory days and it was like a return to familial work and space. Over a cup of tea, we discussed his ongoing show at Vadehra Art Gallery, which have the starting points of his body of worksto be shown at the Special Project Space, Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum from September 26, 2017.

Panda besides being an significantcontemporary artist in India has just completed one cycle of evolution with his show ‘Crystal Cities’ which is to previewthe museum in Mumbai. This is an important show for Panda and an equally seminal one for the contemporary art scene in India as it reprints the footsteps of the larger evolution of Indian contemporary art. 

On asking him about what his thoughts were when he was invited to showcase by such a prestigious institution, Panda viewed it as a start of about one and a half years of basic planning for Crystal Cities. He says, “I didn't know what kind of title, etc. when I started. I was discovering a lot of elements and references from the last five to ten years of photographs andsome parts of sculptures I had created earlier. But I thought I would use it in a certain way and put it behind. I had thought I would come back and have a conversation with it and revisit it later. That conversation, re-began. Once that happened, it took over the space inside (my studio) and you can say there were lots of references from the last five to ten years in this exhibition.” 

He has revisited all the bodies of work while making the new works for Crystal Cities. When he talks of his photographic-sculptural installation,he goes on to say, “In fact this is the first time I started showing photographs independently,” and adds that he has made an effort of organically synthesize and “Integrate mediums in the show with drawing, painting, sculpture, collage, reference objects… all that then build up with each space. And each space looks like it is independent and each individual can look at it as his/her personal space,depending on where you look at it. But in the same space sometimes, you look at it in a large way as far as content, reference, image or the way I put together photographs. (The visual) looks like a largearchitectural work with the curves and depth inside. “ 

Almost like bricks these“hold all these memories which come together. The work is titled the Development of the Metropolis where you are looking at a smaller personal space but at the same time you are looking at a larger space around it. I have drawn a lot of landscape inside.” 

Some of his photographs have an aerial perspective, which is an inversion from the traditional eye view perspective forcing the viewer to consider other ways of viewing rather than the convenient one. The sculptural bird forms within are possible reference points to previous works creating a thread between his past bodies of works and his present works at the museum. 

When you look at the canvases there is a dialogue and sometimes there is a clash between nature and man, which is very evident in certain works and then there is a subtler dialogue where there is an inherent grace in Panda’s works. The comment is not of alienation and there is an open-ended conversation of the balance of man and nature existing in a space where it could go either ways. The violence and contradiction is subtle and understated where Panda looks to create a state of multiple layers of meaning and open ended connections where he touches upon the grey areas as a witness to time. 

The grace, according to Panda, comes from the fact that  “there is a sense of not denying but a sense of accepting as a witness to time. The elements are not troubling but if you read between, there is that engagement. The dialogue shouldn't be dragged in one direction. The viewer should have the ability to connect with his/her perspective. I try to work intuitively and organically with my work so it lives in the consciousness. There is a massive 99 percent of an unexplored world, which you are not aware of. The birds have a feeling of grace, majesty and power. There is a reference to political connotations. What they talk is what interests me.” 

On discussing the work which appears to be the greens of a golf course, Panda talks of how as he steps out from his balcony at home he can see the golf course where he observes the goingson and the corridors of power of the city open out to him. “ I try to make nature into a space. It is a very attractive space. It is like a privatisation of nature” He adds the projections which connote the power element are about the individuals and “what they talk what they feel. There is lot of action.This work, the way it is coming out from the land, the viewer comes closer to the work and at eye level you can see flying objects… it feels like they are being controlled by somebody. And right underneath the grass is a plastic city, the underbelly… a hidden space like a city. The part on top is very bright and full of glamour and the underbelly, which is a bit large, we don't see or talk about it. There is a disconnectedness.” 

Disconnectedness is an important theme in Crystal Cities where Jaganaath Panda draws from examples closer home (he also runs a foundation to encourage young artists and build them up professionally from his home state) quoting how we live in separate isolated worlds. He says “We have talented people but the right people are not put in the right systems. Look at the museum system in India. The whole system is largely collapsing…Museum is a place not producing any knowledge. People are not judging on capabilities. We need a sutradhar.” 

He goes on to talk of how spaces like Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum and the Patna Museum have been able to make a difference by working with new dynamics and working professionally with the right people and resource.According to him, there are young initiative driven artists, writers and curators who may not have the same degrees but have good work behind them and can make a difference but because of the disconnected nature of being where museums and patronage bodies have certain criteria and are not willing to experiment one looses out on building a progressive dynamic culture in art professionally. There is no room for reinterpretation. The passion and vision along with a progressive love for art shines through. 

Panda’s ingenuity with the use of textile in his work is fascinating. The transitions between the quality of textile in early years with brocade which to him is a more homelike flow oriented feminine touch and the present transitions to a more industrialized texture and sheen in the use of fabric brings about an evolution in the understanding of the aesthetics of his work. This change that started in 2015is markedly different. His choices are natural and organic to this metallic feel in the work. The metallic darkness puts you in an uncomfortable place yet you can return to the natural dynamics bringing up that aspect of a sharper contrast in the way the layers of his work are explored from his known style. 

He talks of the sharp blade, iron ore effect. “The iron ore mines I visited in the western part of Odisha where it shines in this kind of colour inspire me… I thought this would solve my problem. I understood how to use this.” 

He adds on the forms that come from references from architecture playing protagonist in his work, “I always enjoy creating forms.The surface is like supporters to the form. Then, the surface, which becomes a metaphysical space shows the tattva or substance. They have a sense of play around it.” 

Panda is fond of three-dimensional forms, even in his two dimensional work. One sees this from his earlier exhibitions across the world including his recent exhibition in London, to the upcoming one in Mumbai, which is a sculpture heavy show. He talks of his natural fondness for the three-dimensional form and is interested in seeing how he can bring it together through the interplay of mediums, textures and experiences. 

To Jagannath Panda, his work is reaching out to the spirit of his concepts through the form itself where illusions play a part in creating dialogue. In the last few moments of this interview, I take back with me the association of his belief of formlessness within form, which makes Crystal Cities. This exciting exhibition coming up at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum is a game changer from a man who is not just an artist but a thinker, philosopher and a beacon of hope to many who have known and been inspired by his work over the years.