The sculptor as ambassador: Indian artist Tutu Pattnaik at the 23rd Aswan Sculpture Symposium

Soha Elsirgany , Saturday 10 Mar 2018

The symposium ran 22 January to 9 March, featuring four international artists and 12 Egyptians

Tutu Pattnaik
Indian sculptor Siti (Tutu) Pattnaik at the 23rd Aswan International Sculpture Symposium (Photo: Mousa Mahmoud)

Indian sculptor Siti (Tutu) Pattnaik was among four international artists at this year’s Aswan International Sculpture Symposium, which concluded its 23rd edition 9 March.

Pattnaik’s sculpture, titled ‘Homage to Bamiyan,’ commemorates the iconic 6th century Buddha statues carved into a mountain in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley.

After standing for 1,700 years, the statues (one at 55m and a smaller one at 37m high) were dynamited by the Taliban in 2001 in a sweeping and systematic destruction of idols, completely demolishing the larger one, and partially destroying the smaller.

The artist depicts the left half of a Buddha, carved within an arch to mimic the one in the Bamiyan cliff. The half figure is standing under the sacred peepal tree, carved in high relief.

In the upper segment, chants written in ancient Sanskrit letters share the space with an upward spiral motif known in Indian art.

The vertical three-piece sculpture looks like a broken slice of an actual monument. There are seemingly broken horizontal beams protruding from the right side, while the left side has three holes, implying how this piece would connect like a puzzle to form a complete temple.

siti tutu
Details of the peepal tree begin to show on Pattnaik's piece at the symposium (Photo: Mousa Mahmoud)

Noting that the sculptor himself is neither Afghani nor Buddhist, his subject of interest extends much wider than one particular religion or monument.

“All of my work is related to history, mostly Indian but also all of the world’s history.” Pattnaik tells Ahram Online.

After all, it is not just in Afghanistan or India that temples have been attacked by opposing sects or religions, but all around the world. Coincidentally, Aswan’s very own Philae temple shared a similar fate on a smaller scale, with much of its art being defaced by the Christians circa 520 BC, and later by the Byzantine Iconoclasts.

While this particular sculpture of Pattnaik deals with a dramatic subject and an exceptionally harsh attack on culture, his work is embedded with a concern for preserving history and culture at large, rendering him an ambassador for these things he holds dear.

Pattnaik’s work speaks for him and he speaks for love, understanding, connection and unity, to counter all the ego which he feels is the root of all evil and behind all the intolerance and wars in the world.

He has an appreciation for everything old, and tries to preserve it by recreating it in his sculptures, but in the process always adding his own interpretation and making it his own.

“I like it when you can smell the history in a place or an artwork, the scent of the country. That feeling is more valuable to me than all the new modern things,” he says.

One of his signatures is placing two parallel metal pieces across a cracked line in the stone, which appears like a fix that preserves the piece from falling apart.

He also usually applies an aging effect by painting some parts and then wiping the paint off, leaving only traces of the color in the grooves.

In Homage to Bamiyan, some parts of the stone are polished, while there are areas treated with a rough texture, and others are left as organic as the natural stone.

“Stone has its own quality, when you cut everything cleanly like a machine it becomes artificial. There must be something natural, because the stone itself in nature is already a beautiful sculpture,” Pattnaik says.

Indian artist Siti (Tutu) Pattnaik (Photo: Mousa Mahmoud)

The artist grew up in Orissa in East India, known as Temple City for the abundance of temples. Growing up surrounded by temples fueled his desire to become an artist, even though they did not have the same effect on the rest of his scientifically-inclined family members.

What makes his work even more special and necessary is that — according to Pattnaik — the new generation in India is more invested in Westernising, and care little about their past and heritage and the ancient temples that surround their modern lives.

The artist talked about how important it is for him to create sculptures that represent him and reflect his roots.

“I am making work that shows my culture, when you see it you will know it is mine and from my country. If I travel to England for example and recreate the style of an English artist, then what would I be adding? Why would they invite me?” he adds.

While many symposium artists may recreate some of their pieces upon request, Pattnaik says he never repeats a project, and will always want to work on something new and add his own twist to it.

It is perhaps romantic but heartwarming to think of all the unique sculptures made by his hand, scattered all over the countries he’s visited – sculptures that continue to speak for the ambassador that speaks for culture.

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