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Setting The ‘Real’ In Surreal

Gurgaon-based artist Jagannath Panda spoke to us about the impact of our times and the many experiences, memories, realities and dreams that have shaped it so

The Gaze, Acrylic, fabric, glue on canvas, 114" x 78", 2015 Image Courtesy of the Artist

This issue on ‘Clean’ started with a simple enough agenda – figure out the many layers and connotations that attach themselves to everyday life and lend new meanings to the word. What I didn’t expect was the barrage of different interpretations, influences, testimonies, assimilated stories and lived through experiences that somehow left me (excuse the pun) wiped clean – scrubbed raw of all understanding of self, of emotions or of the ability to connect with the world around me. The raging pandemic, the news flashes of disasters and injustices and the constant disintegration of what seemed like common sense certainly didn’t help matters much. 

Virtue of a Hero, Acrylic, fabric, glue on canvas, 114" x 78", 2015. Image Courtesy of the Artist

It was in this context that I first approached artist Jagannath Panda with a proposal to design the issue’s cover. Well known for his rather witty and impactful representations of human relationships, particularly with nature, sure enough, he was immediately on board. I was prepared for a cover that would speak of the immediate concerns around climate change or ecological conservation – subjects that I knew he often approached in his works. What I wasn’t prepared for was the stark yet whimsical representation of the very times we are living in – a commentary on the very issues I was struggling to come in terms with, all clearly explained through several dichotomies and yes, even mythology. A few months ago, if someone had said to me that I would come to terms with the reality around me only by entering into a fantastical world of dreams, metaphors and different meanings, I would have laughed at their faces (from a 6 feet distance of course). But that is just what I ended up doing. For Jagannath Panda, realism exists in fantasy. ‘It’s a reality that you construct that can take you to a different time. The possibilities that this metaphor lends, is immense. But conflicting ideologies are the key to understanding our culture; where multiple voices are always heard… fantasy, here, becomes an interesting metaphor, to talk about the other realities that are not necessarily visible… I use stories from Ramayana for instance, not to bring in the whole baggage of history or religion or that aspect of storytelling; but more because it is an immediate requirement to understand my time’, he said over a phone conversation as we discussed the impacts of our collective times and the many nuanced experiences, memories and realities that have brought us to this particular time and place in history. 

Circadian Rhythm, Acrylic, fabric, glue, 48" x 60", 2020. Image Courtesy of the Artist.

Excerpts from the interview:
You have been credited with an ingenuity that ‘disrupts binaries.’ And your works often become places where one is pleasantly lost within the many meanings, metaphors, dreams and realities. Do you still remember the defining instance or inspiration that got you started on this road? Or was it more seamless, a cumulation of many different life experiences?
When I first moved back from London and decided to settle down in Gurgaon, it was a very contrasting time. What I imagined India to be, and what it was then, it was completely different. It occurred to me then that the way we perceive India, our culture, or the people, was inadequate. So, in that context, many images started appearing to me. Even with some of my works that I had started in London, I started looking at them differently. Living in Gurgaon, I realised that there are so many different voices that exist simultaneously. The people who live here, they come with different utopias, different imaginations and different times. I wanted to look at how this heterotopia works. How different people have conversations and find a common ground – not just among themselves but also with conflicting cultures, ecology, landscapes, the city that evolves and grows and how it deals with nature. In that conversation, I find that I too am a witness and my own experiences, from living in different cities and even my hometown in Odisha, start pouring in. I feel that painting is an interesting medium to explore this narrative on multiple levels. 

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Read More: History On A Weave

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