Sculpting a Village Haat!

Sculpting a Village Haat!

Vadodara, August 20, 2022

Mayadhar Sahu was a young boy often accompanying his grandfather to the town near his village in north Odisha to buy goods in wholesale to stock the latter's modest shop in the village. The item that always fascinated Mayadhar was the garlic bulbs – either piled up in a basket or woven in a bunch to be suspended from the ceiling or by a hook against the kitchen wall.

(Onions and garlic are generally bought and stocked in large quantities, in village households, when they are harvested and available at cheaper rates. The rural skill of weaving them in a bunch, so that they can be suspended such that rats and insects don’t get to them, and the bulbs are continuously aired so they do not rot, is also fast disappearing.)

When Mayadhar finished school and moved to Bhubhaneshwar to study fine arts, he was terribly homesick. He took a lot more time than his urban counterparts to understand the different styles of art creation, especially abstract art.

Then one day he walked to the local vegetable market, and suddenly he felt at home. He got to his college studio having acquired a small piece of marble and began working on it to create highly realistic small garlic bulbs. A friend walked in and asked him what he was doing, peeling garlic in the studio. That’s when he knew what he was good at, what he enjoyed, and what he must practice assiduously to make his mark as a sculptor.

Then began the long journey of exploration of different mediums – marble, marble dust, wood, metal, terracotta, paper, natural fibres, dry leaves, nails – to understand what best will work for the kind of sculptures he had in mind. Without really knowing it, Mayadhar was working really very hard to achieve what is known as hyper-realism.

In Odisha it was difficult as well as expensive to access large blocks of marble. So he found an effective solution in using marble dust and the technique of casting to create small vegetables with details such as capsicums, chillies, ginger and so on.

Over time, he recreated an entire vegetable and fruit market, neatly displayed, just the way it is in a haat or a mandi. There were vast bunches of bananas and coconuts, sacks of potatoes, boxes of tomatoes, ladies fingers, radishes, carrots, bottle gourds, snake gourds, bunches of drumsticks and sugar cane, dates, gooseberries still on the boughs with matching leaves, oranges and apples complete with the little stickers! His jackfruits were amazing, where he used nails to create the thick and prickly skin of this massive fruit as it undulates over the wavy insides. So were the pink onion bunches where their paper-thin skins were created from the inner leaves that embrace a corn cob!

This became his exhibition when he was a Masters student at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Vadodara, that took everyone who was seeing it for the first time by a tremendous surprise!

In an art world which did not look too kindly upon "realistic" artworks (the argument is that when photography can easily create/capture that realistic image in minutes, what is the point of a person slaving for days to create the same image?), Mayadhar’s painstakingly created sculptures did not make an immediate impact though they were certainly impressive. So, he has still not given up on this subject as the content of his work and the tremendous skill he brings to his job.

When he applied to the Canadian Elizabeth Greenshields Scholarship, he was rejected thrice before being accepted. Ditto, for the Faculty of Fine Arts Masters Program. So he created a sculpture in marble with the mark ‘Rejected’ on it. And he created more sculptures of folded newspapers with the headline, ‘Odia artist wins Greenshields award’ when he finally bagged that prize.

It reveals the keen sense of humour that Mayadhar has as well, that allows him to laugh at himself. He has also made a series of decorative and functional objects, sculpted in marble, that are bought often by middle class families but never really used. They are kept in that precious showcase in the drawing room and over a period of time these objects have lost their use as well. Yet they are never ever disposed of, and they continue to be there, forever a part of the family’s environment!

Some time back the Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai, showed his work to much appreciation, which was a good shot in the arm for Mayadhar Sahu. Now, the Gallery White in Vadodara has sponsored his solo show which opened in the first week August and will continue till mid-September. Gallery White will be collaborating with the Chennai-based Apparao Galleries to take this show there later this year.

Sandhya Bordewekar writes on contemporary art, architecture, heritage, food and life in general.

(All photos courtesy of Gallery White, Vadodara.)


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