SUCHISMITA MOHANTY / PRATUL DASH / VEEJAYANT DASH / PRATAP CHANDRA JENA / SMRUTIKANT ROUT
“Mo BAT!” – the Community of Bhubaneswar Art Trail
Lastly, the work of BAT presents question about continuity and stewardship of the shared narratives that comprise Bhubaneswar’s Old Town. What is the relationship between culture and possession? What role does the citizen play in fostering and shepherding her traditions, narratives, and shared resources into the future? Several works along the trail have employed formal metaphor, ritual, and community engagement to take up this question of possession. We see how works of art can not only inquire deeply and critically into culture, but also serve as vehicles for the protection, preservation, and dissemination of that which a community holds dear.Some of these works express the concept of possession through performance and ritual; others do so through their physical structures, which express forms of cradling, containment, and embrace.
Suchismita Mohanty describes herself as a practitioner of urban farming. In her project statement she explains how this activity has inspired her artistic practice, citing how food can be a vehicle for exchanging cultural knowledge and transmitting ideas between the traditional and contemporary. Her work Agana (Courtyard) is a two-part exploration of the connection between food, nourishment, and community. Mohanty began this work by researching traditional Odia cuisine, including ingredients, recipes, and methods of preparation. Her research culminated in a performance / offering to the local community in the form of a portable tea ceremony.
For her performance, Mohanty constructed a portable teacart, upon which rests a sculpture of a small Lingaraj-inspired temple courtyard. From the cart she offered local residents tea made from aparajita flowers. This work makes a poetic statement about how individuals can become stewards of shared culture. By embodying Odia tradition through research, action, and performance, Mohanty breathes life into traditions that would otherwise languish.
Pratap Chandra Jena has constructed a large basket-like form from bamboo that is situated adjacent to the BinduSagar. Completely covering the exterior of the oversized vessel are small, framed images of Hindu deities, which wrap around the form like a skin or scales.Each image is a portal into a complex narrative; here they are drawn together as a quilt or skin. The structure speaks to the idea of collective narrative, and how multiple stories or narrative strands may coexist and even contribute structurally to a broader narrative.
A key feature of this work is its hollowness. A basket is a vessel designed to carry and contain. Perched on the banks of the BinduSagar, one makes a connection to water, and a vessel’s function of containing and transporting. The juxtaposition of water, vessel, and Hindu imagery reminds us of the ritual significance of water in Hindu faith.
Floating in the BinduSagar as a companion to Jena’s work is Smrutikant Rout’s Sailing in Between. This floating bamboo sculpture takes the surrounding BinduSagar, and more broadly water itself as a subject. Rout describes his interest in water as it relates to faith and community: “Water is the central point related to all the religious places. During the ancient times people used the water of Bindusagar for drinking purpose, but today it is polluted. So, aren't we losing the source of this holy place by polluting its water?”
Rout explains that the work is a tribute to BinduSagar: “In day time, we are trying to discover and remember our past by navigating our present. At night we are paying our tribute to Bindusagar by illuminating it.”Simple in form and illuminated at night, Sailing in Between serves as a bright buoy or beacon, directing our attention to the water itself. We are reminded of water as a life source, a sacred element, and something that a community must collectively possess and care for.
In Pratul Dash’s Temple for Birds, the concept of possession and stewardship extends to the fragile ecology of our cities. Temple for Birds employs terracotta pots collected from the surrounding temples of Old Town. In the daily life of temple devotees, the pots are used for the keeping and distributing of Prasad, or ritual temple food. In Dash’s work, the spherical pots have been arranged architecturally to form the walls of a towering pyramid. Working from the pots’ original role as vehicle for nurturing and sustenance, Dash reimagines the hollow forms as makeshift habitats for the Old Town’s local bird population, and more broadly, as a metaphor for better stewardship of native wildlife.
Veejayant Dash’s PakaKambala, PotaChhatacombines installation and performance in an exploration of themes from Oriya literature. Here, cultural stewardship takes the form of oral folklore. In the installation component of Dash’s piece a large woolen blanket spread from wall to ground establishes a space. Eyes and landscape elements quilted onto the blanket create a sense of habitation. Completing the scene is an umbrella perched over a wooden chair. Thus, the narrative reference behind the work is illustrated: spread the blanket, plant the umbrella.
The artist has activated the installation in a series of storytelling performances, both at the site of the sculpture and elsewhere. Through the performances we are made to understand the metaphor of ‘spreading the blanket’ as a form of place-making; here the blanket creates a site for the arrival of oral histories. Dash explains: “I think every settlement starts with the spreading of a blanket and covering it with the umbrella, then stories start flowing and Old Town is no different.” The work shows how embodiment and dissemination of shared narrative by the individual storyteller is an essential way that continuity is created within a culture.
Of all the themes explored here, the concept of possession seems the most salient to me. As a community project, it is this very notion of repossession that pervades the Bhubaneswar Art Trail. Every aspect of this project, from the artwork to the event programming, stakeholder involvement, and engagement of volunteers, sends a message of ownership to the community; this is echoed nowhere more clearly than in the Trail’s resounding slogan – “MO BAT!” More than any other, an attitude of re-engagement and repossession of ones culture feels like a profoundly powerful stance to be adopted by the future artists and luminaries of Bhubaneswar.