Odisha's patachitra art comes to Chennai

From painted coconuts to the romance of the seasons, Odisha’s patachitra artists bring their eclectic work to the city at this exhibition

In one corner of Forum Art Gallery, an elderly man sporting a waistcoat and a dhoti, sits on a charpai. He is busy at work. The fine outlines of a half-done figure of Krishna, with tiny loops and other similar elements of line drawings, garner my attention to the small canvas. The man stoops over the canvas, blissfully unaware of his surroundings. His hands move with the dexterity of an experienced practitioner, a simple brush made of squirrel hair, fastened tightly to a straight twig in tow — the work too doesn’t say otherwise. This is Sharat Kumar Sahoo, a 50-year-old National award winning patachitra artist, at work. Around him, perched on the walls, are works of 11 artists — all from Raghurajpur, a tiny hamlet in Odisha — which together make for ‘Jagannatha: a hand-picked collection of fine Odisha patachitra’.

Odisha's patachitra art comes to Chennai

The walls are crowded with works that are replete with many small elements that catch one’s eye only when observed closely. Patachitra on coconuts bobs along the walls, resembling balls of varied sizes with colourful patterns. Ganesha, who basks in a brownbackground with inklings of black all over, has many intricate interpretations of the elephant god within the larger figure. “A form within a form — this is a usually seen concept in Patachitra. This is the work of Bijay Parida,” says the curator, Suguna Swamy who has also extensively worked with the artists in Raghurajpur. Despite the numerous elements present on the cloth canvas, the primary figure of the Ganesha doesn’t get lost. His modak, trunk and tusks — all remain as highlighted as the other elements.

Odisha's patachitra art comes to Chennai

The cycle of seasons, Radha and Krishna revelling with gopikas and the various stages in a woman’s life — these are recurring themes in the artform. “The idyllic life in a village, mythological narratives, a woman’s elaborate adornment rituals also feature quite often in their works,” continues Suguna pointing to another more colourful work depicting a woman as she goes about her daily chores. In different panels, each stage is detailed carefully, bringing out a narrative quality when observed as a single work. At the farther end of the gallery, the overpowering black catches my eye. As I move closer, the Konark pillars, the sun and other motifs from the the Konark temple can be seen intricately drawn and etched in black.

Odisha's patachitra art comes to Chennai

The artists mostly use vegetable dyes and colours extracted from minerals. The shades in this case, take on a softer tenor, which soothe the eyes with their pastel hues (black and earthy shades dominating). However, acrylic colours too make an appearance rarely, when the subject demands it. The canvas, on the other hand, is prepared by coating a cotton cloth with a mixture of chalk and gum extracted from tamarind seeds. In addition, they also use palm leaves that take on the form of a foldable manuscript.

Means of livelihood

“As you walk through the streets of Raghurajpur, people stand on either side inviting you into their homes,” says Suguna adding that most of the young artisans prefer to involve themselves in marketing their ancestors’ works to tourists. For the entire hamlet of 120-odd families, patachitra is a means of livelihood. Consequently, the artistic value gets buried in mass production meant only for earning a steady income.

Odisha's patachitra art comes to Chennai

Sahoo’s typical day starts at 4 am and goes on till 9 pm. At night, table lamps come to his rescue. Occasional breaks excluded, most of his time goes into working on the piece, which he does sitting on the floor without the help of magnifying glasses or stencils. He had started out when he was 13 years old. And what are his favourite subjects to work on? He doesn’t have an answer. He mumbles shyly , “I get challenged only by very intricately detailed work.” Though the older artisans, who have traditionally inherited the skill, prefer to stick to the common subjects, the younger generation seems to be open to change. “Most of the tourists come here because of the traditional value of the art. But we would be happy if we get the chance to introduce changes,” 29-year-old Prasanta Moharana chimes in as he etches out two figurines of women, on a bookmark. He then, dunks a piece of cloth in black ink and swipes it across the figurines — they emerge black as he wipes out the extra ink.

‘Jagannatha: a hand-picked collection of fine Odisha patachitra’ will be on display till January 14, at Forum Art Gallery, Adyar

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 10:39:17 PM |

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