Give M.N. Gowri some wet sand and she would transform it into a masterpiece. The sand artist from Mysore was there in the city to create a sand sculpture that featured 26 species of endangered animals

While the rest of us forgot our little sand castles, a few in the country have held on to the sand, moulded it with water and gone on to create massive sculptures the world celebrates as sand art. Among the latest to join the Indian bandwagon of sand artists is Mysore's M.N. Gowri, who is also the first and only female sand sculpture artist in the country at the moment. Recently in the city to create a sand sculpture featuring 26 species of endangered animals, as part of the ongoing summer expo at the John Vestry School grounds, 23-year-old Gowri speaks about her art and her ideas for its viability as a career.

“My grandfather worked as a conservator of forests in Karnataka and he spent most of his time observing and photographing animals and his love for animals seems to have rubbed off on me too,” says Gowri, explaining her inclination towards animal figures. Her 60 feet wide, 12 feet high and 20 feet long exhibit in Tiruchi is her widest creation till date, she says.

Tales in sand

“All art must have a story behind it…a story that is immediately apparent to the viewer,” says Gowri, whose primary concern is that her creations match the given theme. “I first develop a concept unambiguously associated with the event I'm displaying at; then I translate it on to paper as the picture I will follow faithfully.” Her tryst with sand began with her offering to create on sand the face of Lord Shiva, the lingam and the snake for a festival organised by the Akila Bharatha Veera Shaiva Maha Sabha at Suttur near Mysore. “That was the first time I was doing a sculpture and when I was done, it impressed even my father, who until then wasn't very keen on my pursuing sand art,” says Gowri. She completed her diploma in machine tool technology and even took up engineering before dropping out in the second year. “I'm now pursuing Bachelor in Fine Arts through correspondence.”

Gowri says she dabbled a bit with clay modelling and pencil sketching, before discovering sand sculptures online. “The pictures I saw inspired me a great deal and I began looking up YouTube videos to understand it better,” she says recalling how she taught herself the techniques of sand art.

With some struggle, she manages to put into words some of the basic rules in sand art: “The wet sand should be sculpted from top to bottom and the artist must be really careful because you cannot go back to the top to make any corrections; and depending on the picture you visualise the proportions and translate it on to the sand using techniques like compressing (creating mounds) and engraving (creating depth).” While she is confident that she can replicate any picture on sand, she feels the human face is difficult to sculpt. “It has to possess that aesthetic beauty that comes only out of perfect proportioning.” The sand sculptures, she says, are liable to collapsing several times during their creation. “You must never get demotivated. Not even when your piece crumbles after you're half done,” she laughs. A well-protected piece can stay intact for even up to a year, she says. “Countries like China, Japan and Singapore have sand sculpture museums.”

Gowri participated in the International Sand Art Festival organised for the first time in India in 2011 by the Odisha Tourism Department. She was invited to participate, she recalls, by Pramod Patnaik, brother of the internationally renowned sand artist, Sudarshan Patnaik. “A sand artist by himself, Pramod Patnaik found me on the internet through the pictures of my creations and suggested that I participate in the festival,” she says. The five-day festival, in which seven sand artists from abroad and 27 sand artists from India participated, was centred around the theme ‘Culture linking tourism'.

Gowri wants to make a career out of sand art, and she is presently exploring new avenues where a sand sculpture could be relevant. With plans to approach corporate companies, car manufacturers and retail brands, Gowri is hopeful of landing contracts to create logos, products, cars and so on in sand. “Imagine a giant Reebok shoe at the centre of a shopping mall that has been made of sand…it would be a crowd puller,” she says.