Her sculptures are fascinating and unsettling at the same time. In her workshop that is replete with ceramic and clay figures, some broken and some glazed, Odia artist Biswajita Moharana sculpts figures of wounded baby girls and foetuses as part of her project that probes the issue of female foeticide in India.
Some of her works in the series were recently showcased in an exhibition by Indian Contemporary Artists Association in Bhubaneswar.
On one of the walls in her workshop, baby heads made out of ceramics hang from a wall panel and in another, sculpture of a newborn girl child rests within a sea shell. Through many such sculptures, Bhubaneswar-based Biswajita has been exploring the problem of sex selective abortion in the country. Walking the thin line between art and activism, the artist believes that art can be used to spread awareness and raise questions. “My work focuses on the trend of terminating pregnancies after diagnosing the gender of the foetus,” says the 34-year-old sculptor, who has studied art from Viswa Bharati University, Shantiniketan. Considered among the very few contemporary women artists in the state, Biswajita has been working with ceramics and stoneware for the past nine years.
Biswajita has named her project ‘The Untold Story of Laxmi’, which she says is also a tribute to the beautiful gift of life, love and hope. “The little girl of today is the woman of tomorrow who shapes the civilisation. A newborn girl is often referred to as Devi Laxmi, an embodiment of wealth. However, in many parts of the country, Laxmi is not safe. Even though people worship her, the intentional killing of newborn girls continues in our country.
Girls, who should be given an opportunity to live, are either killed in the womb or after birth, and are discarded as medical waste. As a contemporary artist, my works focus on the psychological and emotional aspects of female foeticide. These foetuses are like saplings that need nourishment, care and love to grow into plants that give shade and bear fruits,” she says. Most of her works in ceramics feature wounded heads of baby girls, who, she says, carry a sense of vulnerability. Some of her creations are often morbid and discomforting.
She has been felicitated by many city-based socio-cultural organisations for her contribution towards visual arts. A research fellow of Central Lalit Kala Akademi, Biswajita has also been participating in a number of group shows and ceramic camps.
One of the most interesting works in her oeuvre is a life-size black panel that has baby heads hanging from hooks. An intriguing piece of art, some of the faces wear a sad look while many are bruised. None of the 30 faces on the panel wear the same expression as the artist does not use a mould to fashion them. These faces, she explains, symbolise foetuses and the bruises are a reminder of their struggle to survive. Titled ‘Foeticide’, another work of Biswajita has faces of four baby girls placed on circular frames that are covered with unwanted vegetation.
In another, she fixes similar faces inside a structure that resembles a pea pod. “Inside her mother’s womb, a girl is safe but when she is out, the world becomes a difficult place for her.” Another interesting work is a sculpture in stoneware that has a baby girl looking outside a window.
Her art project also includes ink and graphite paintings on the subject where the artist has used butterfly to symbolise a girl child. She draws a butterfly flying out of a scissor and an axe that is used to cut its wings. Regarding her choice of medium, Biswajita says she likes working with ceramics as it helps her give a three-dimensional look to her subjects.
On being asked, what led her to arts, she says, “Having grown up in a village, I was attracted to the beautiful designs called ‘Chitta’ that the women in my house used to draw on the floor during festivals using rice flour paste.” It was the Nayagarh incident in 2007 when 60 foetuses of girl children were found from a pit that forced her to do something on female foeticide. “I was a student then and thought of doing a special series to create awareness towards this social evil,” she says. Biswajita is now working on the theme of womanhood and nature, which she will exhibit in the city in a solo exhibition soon.