Known to reconcile “the mythical and the technological”, Indian painter and sculptor Jagannath Panda (born 1970) creates complex works that reflect on India’s transition in an era of intense urbanisation. His narratives exist in a world where reality, dream and metaphor come together and often contain animals standing in for human beings, living out the tensions brought about by social change.
Paradoxes, contradictions, binaries, dichotomies exist seamlessly in the images—fantasy and fact, ancient and modern, natural and man-made, rural and urban. Glass and steel forming the ordered grid of the metropolis make space for characters from Hindu epics, wings of birds are found suspended around concrete terraces, a peacock from legend and lore is seen before a town giving off black smoke. Rhinos, owls, goats and others are suddenly found displaced, alienated and anxious in unfamiliar, not particularly hospitable cityscapes.
Hailing from Bhubaneswar, the capital of the state of Odisha (formerly Orissa) in eastern India, Panda is the son of a temple priest and is heavily inspired by his local tradition and culture. As a child, he encountered the classic magazine for kids Chandamama and artisans making religious figurines near his home. He went on to obtain a BFA at B.K. College of Art and Crafts in Bhubaneswar and a Master’s in Sculpture from M.S. University in Baroda, Gujarat. In 1997, he was invited to Fukuoka University of Education in Japan as a visiting research fellow; he then gained a further MA in Sculpture at the Royal College of Art, London (2002). He also cites Japanese artist On Kawara and the French-American Louise Bourgeois as inspirations.
In 2005, Panda relocated to Gurgaon, a suburb of New Delhi that has been built on former farmland over the last 20 years. The arterial roads and continual construction projects as well as the mass migration that he witnessed there naturally found a way into his work. Other important themes in his work are death and desire, the tension between knowledge and faith, social injustice and economic inequalities.
Even as his art exposes the various disruptions and deteriorations brought about by human activity, its use of light and colour communicate an uplifting, enchanted view of existence as a whole—ultimately bringing hope to the viewer that it may not be impossible to make the wrongs right.
Jagannath Panda has exhibited his work at many galleries, museums and fairs worldwide. Among his prizes are the Lalit Kala Akademi Award, the All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society Award, the Alice Boner Memorial Award and London’s C.I.I.C. Centre Prize. In 2011, he launched the Utsha Foundation for Contemporary Art to engage and nurture the Indian culture and provide a space/platform to reflect and augment diversity of the urban, rural, secular and religious identities. He plans to continue to take art out of the studio to support art accessible to common people, bringing it to places that have yet to experience it.
Links: Instagram (www.instagram.com/jagannathpanda)