It is clear at first glance that Crystal Cities, a new exhibition of multimedia works by 47-year-old contemporary artist Jagannath Panda, rudely points out to the way in which metropolitans are changing rapidly, continuously and sometimes, even dangerously.
Reused materials have been used as metaphors to make noise about the excessive exploitation of our natural environments and the overall sorry state of affairs.
Watching the rain pour down from the slant of the roof of the exhibition hall, he sits on a feeble wooden chair, seemingly absorbed in observing the trickling water. A sweet smile surfaces when he sees us. A few pleasantries later, he is ready for a tête-a-tête.The Profiteer is the first sculpture he takes us to. An entire room to itself, the crow-head work symbolises an urban business man, madly chasing money. In the race to acquire more, he has lost his identity. “I see this as a surrealistic, theatrical piece. It represents the quintessential city dweller who feels lost despite having so much,” says Panda, whose exhibition has come back to Delhi after a hiatus of seven years.
A few steps out of the room bring you to a large piece called Speed-Metals, with sharp, floating auto logos and a reticulate of lines. A lot is happening within its rectangular frame that alludes a kinetic impression. On close scrutiny you see different layers of subjects rendered, amidst which you find trees, mandalas, geometric lines and several sub-divided sections giving multiple perspectives. Whether you watch this three-dimensional work from the ground level or the sky, you see heterogeneous juxtapositions. “If you ask me to recreate it again, I won’t be able to,” says the artist, adding, “To me this piece shows how much we have grown; from a single atom to an entire universe,” he smiles.
In the centre of the room is a life-size installation with an inverted metropolis made of broken toys. At eye level, there is a base of miniature grass that resembles a golf course. Long, upright metal sticks with surveillance equipment are erected on the grass patch. A protruding Greek-style hand sits in the centre symbolising strength and authority.
In the next room, a white frame tells an interesting story of how discernment is a rare virtue. Amidst the miniature dokra human figures lined within the frame, is a man holding a pot. It’s a traditional figurine, Dweller of Metropolis, for which there is no demand now. “I was visiting Sadeibarini in Odisha, where dokra is made and asked for old dokra works. They looked at me blankly and instead, offered me images of deities. Sadly, creative energy is getting lost in the name of survival,” he says.
Every frame in the show references the unease in our immediate surroundings. He opens up a dialogue to share concerns related to dislocation, social and economic injustice, and shifts in cultural paradigms and reflects these tensions in his works intelligibly. In all of this, the city remains a poignant reference point, like a little sanctuary of evolution and meaning in his heart.