Bhubaneswar, capital of the Indian eastern state Odisha, boasts an intense confluence of the past and the contemporary. It is an amalgamation of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain heritage, comprising some of the finest Kalingan temples. Bhubaneswar Development Authority along with Odisha Tourism and Utsha Foundation wanted to engage and give locals and visitors coming for the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup insight into the heritage of the city and urge them to navigate offline. The idea of the Bhubaneswar Art Trail (BAT) was conceived.
According to BAT curator and artist Premjish Achari, community and inhabited spaces are essential to this project as that is where an intense engagement of the artists with the community, the built and lived landscapes of the Old Town, its history and experiences provides crucial understanding on the wider role of art in public spaces.
Among participating artists, we spoke with French artist Cécile Beau, who uses nature as her focal point, turning into a subject of contemplation and research. Describing her installation, she notes: “The fish is installed on the edge of the water. It seems to be like a snake in its direction to reach the temple in the centre of the lake. The scales of the fish will be made of diya (a small cup-shaped oil lamp made of baked clay) attached to a metal frame. Two diya of larger size for the eyes will be lit when the night comes. A sound system will broadcast from its belly sounds evoking the stars of our solar system (from NASA) merged with those of a shruti box.” The artwork responds to the environment, it grows out the interaction between creative sensitivity and a sort of meditative engagement with the given space.
For Cécile, since this is her first time in India, Bhubaneswar is India. According to her, the city is quite intense, brimming with contrast, moving at different speeds; it is a dense , in all direction like anthill. In a way there are two bifurcations: the old town with antique temple, and the new town, with lots of shop and market.
For local artist Pratul Dash, his work titled Temple for Birds is positioned at the intersection of the local and the global; tradition and modernity. It seeks to celebrate the beauty of nature, to vouchsafe the freedom of birds, purity of waters, plants, air, and climate. His work emphasises a commitment of artmaking to honour wildlife and advocate for what is often a silent agent: the environment. As to why initiatives like BAT are important, he points out: “It’s a great platform and a wonderful initiative. From a local’s perspective, I wish it was done 15 years back. I am quite happy with the selection of the space, the Old Town. It has many layers of culture, heritage, history, archaeology, and lifestyle. I came across local people who had never seen such a unique structure there. They are engaging themselves and the installations have become a selfie point for them. They are open to accept a different kind of aesthetics.” The quality of public art to draw community and spur conversation is fully clear here.
Textile artist Pankaja Sethi navigates a temporal intensity, through her work titled Reflections of Time and Nature. She engages with the space and place of Old Town, investigating notions of memory and history at work in the identity of public space. Weaving tangible and intangible narratives together, she sees the boundaries of nature and culture blurring each other and producing new areas of meaning and self-discovery, rather than separate identities.
Referring to her practice, she notes: “I am creating woven textile artworks using organic materials, textures, and abstract patterns. I am also using Ikat, which is specific to the region. As a textile artist, I see weaving as significant part of livelihood for rural artists. I am attempting to create a representation of a body of work that connects textiles and the cultural architectural spirit of the region.” Pankaja recognises the important role BAT has in the city, namely, to allow artists to engage with space and be free to interpret their stories through various mediums, ending up with rich, living artworks that borrow life from the urban landscape.
Duck Above, Fish Below is Sayantan Maitra’s way of engaging with the urban sprawl, where new buildings have emerged right next to 8th and 9th-century temple structures, completely camouflaging them in the new built environment.
He highlights: “Cities, settlements, localities, roads, and most houses were hardly designed by architects. Probably they were never designed. They just emerged and surfaced. These settlements are at times public, societal, and environmental misadventures, and others are highly adorable. But most of them are somewhere in between.
“The form and character of built spaces result from pressures such as economic, social, cultural, geographic and climatic. I have treated architectural and urban spaces as containers to accommodate, separate, structure and organize, facilitate, heighten and even celebrate the intense human spatial behaviour.”
Archana Patnaik, director of Odisha Tourism concludes: “We expect to receive a record footfall of both national and international tourists for the Hockey World Cup and initiatives such as BAT help us exhibit our rich heritage to the world in a more engaging way. Plus, they are a great way to encourage and inspire local artists.”
Words: Taruka Srivastav and Diya V. Dev
Copy edited by Elena Stanciu