April 15, 2018


In December 2016, when Adwaita Gadanayak became the first Director-General of the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), his vision was to make Delhi asthe global art hub. Prior to this, he was head of the School of Sculpture at the Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology, Bhubaneswar.

Within the art circle, he has been described as a “down to earth” Odisha artist who has little to do with politics. After completing an MFA in sculpture from the College of Art, Delhi, he went to study at the Slade College of Fine Arts, London, in the mid-1990s. Thereafter, he returned to Odisha to practice.

Gadanayak is the perfect blend of national and global experience. Some of his most well-known works in the country are the iconic black marble statue of Gandhi’s Salt Satyagraha (Dandi March) at Raj Ghat, My Temple at the National Lalit Kala Akademi, interactive art work at the Lodhi Garden, Hriday Kunj at the Gandhi Museum, Five Elements at Netaji Subhash Institute of Technology and the sculpture park at the KIIT campus.

He has been a recipient of the National Lalit Kala Akademi award (1993), the Odisha Lalit Kala Akademi Award (1999) and the Scottish International Sculpture Award (1996). His exhibitions have been held at various countries across the world. Globally, his most famous projects include the granite sculpture Meditation in London and Nature at Lampsdeen.

Neha Kirpal recently caught up with him about his journey at the NGMA so far and plans for the future.

Neha Kripal (MOA): Your earliest lessons in art reportedly came from observing your mother design clay artifacts for puja. Tell us more about that.

Adwaita Gadanayak (Gadanayak): Neulapoi, the small village where I come from in the Dhenkanal district of Odisha, is like a jungle. My mother would do the puja through a natural process of procuring the clay, stone and wood. At that time, I didn’t know this was art. That process has remained with me and is a part of all my work.

MOA: Tell us about some of the interesting exhibitions that the NGMA has hosted in the last few months.

Gadanayak: The NGMA consists of a national treasure of more than 17,000 most significant works of modern and contemporary art in the country. Whether in the form of installations or workshops, we want to present with care, preserve work and tell history so that we can pass on the legacy to the future generation. Moreover, we want to tell people about the life of the artist. 

For instance, the exhibition of Dhanraj Bhagat’s work (Journey from Physical to Spiritual) celebrated his centenary year. Bhagat hails from Bengaluru and has also been a teacher at the College of Art in Delhi. Nehru and Indira Gandhi came to his house. He went to Ajanta-Ellora and Konark to do his sculpture work. He would do his sculptures as a form of meditation, layer by layer, and that is how we presented it—in order that the public not only becomes aware about his work, but can really feel and understand his art. Fortunately, we have technology in today’s times to be able to present it well.

Another notable exhibition we had, Itihaas (from the NGMA’s collection), was about sculptors in various cities during the time of the country’s freedom struggle and the Swadeshi movement. We also had young contemporary artist, Jitish Kallat’s solo exhibition—Here After Here—in NGMA, New Delhi.

MOA: What is your vision for the NGMA over the next few years?

Gadanayak: The people who made the NGMA in 1954 made it with a vision to lead the nation. When I joined, I thought about what those people would have thought.

It’s important for us to make a connect with people. The common man standing at India Gate should want to come visit it. It’s not just for Delhi, Mumbai and Benguluru (where we currently have our centres) but its reach should be everywhere—catering to artists from all over the country.

We are working on making a sculpture garden, café and redoing displays at the permanent gallery. All these projects will take about five to six months.

MOA: You said that you want the NGMA premises to be a people-friendly environment. For this, you made the café active and started the Art Adda. Tell us more about this.

Gadanayak: The café should be functional within couple of months’ time. We would like for it to be a place where people meet casually and create an almost art college-like atmosphere for artists to draw and paint. Since it will cater to students, artists and all alike, we would like the prices to be in the range of Rs 10 but also Rs 50.

We have also started the Art Adda, an open discussion platform that takes place on the last Friday of each month where artists, art lovers, arts professionals and the arts community share their views on various aspects of art and culture, including what “their NGMA” should be. This will help young people to merge with and feel a part of the NGMA naturally.

Further, we ask students to become friends of the museum, volunteer and help with the displays from time to time.

MOA: What do you think of the current state of art education in the country? How should it change?

Gadanayak: While we study about all the western forms of art right from Picasso to minimalism, the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution, we have very little information available about art in our country during the Mughal rule of miniature paintings and art that several artists across various cities in the country were making at the time of India’s freedom struggle.

In India, the education system is very rigid and streamlined. Art education can’t be rigid—it finishes if it is so. Its foundation needs to be strengthened. It needs to be redesigned with more emphasis on interaction.

For real art to emerge, we need to experiment and merge with nature—hear the sound of rainwater falling on a leaf. Similarly, we need to view and feel sculpture—in the sun, during the rain, at night.

The education system in the west is so flexible. The student-teacher relationship is very friendly. Ideas and ways of thinking are not imposed. People are encouraged to think in ten different ways in a sense that “it can be like this also”. When I was studying in London, we would sometimes have classes in the city museums and galleries. 

Similarly, we are making a conscious effort to get young students from schools and academic institutions to visit the NGMA regularly.

MOA: What efforts are you making towards promoting the smaller, lesser known regional artists of the country?

Gadanayak: There is so much talent in India. We want to reach out to the regional artists of the country—those in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeastern states—so that they can be brought to the centre where people can discover them and their work. They should not feel intimidated by a central authority such as the NGMA; instead they should feel that it has a place for them too. For this, we are also working towards making a space for young struggling artists to experiment and showcase their work through exhibitions or workshops.