Sand art is still a very new concept in India. However, that has not stopped Sudarsan Pattnaik, an Odisha based sand artist, from winning a Padma Shri, for his stellar work on the canvas of sand.
Apart from the fact that Pattanaik is one of the first artists in India to make gigantic detailed sculptures from sand, his popularity can also be attributed to the fact that he chooses very topical issues to represent through this art. However, one of the most reoccurring themes used by him happens to be climate change.
When asked how many sand sculptures he had made on environmental issues, Pattnaik laughed and said, "It's hard to keep a count. But, I intend to make more." His works often speak about pollution, saving the trees, 'Go Green' initiatives, and managing plastic wastes.
However, the aspect of the environmental issue that irks Pattnaik most is the pollution of seas and oceans, and that of their coasts. Pattnaik, who grew up in Puri, Odisha, has a special relationship with the beach.
"When I was about 9 or 10-year-old, I used to work fulltime. Although I had a strong interest in drawing and painting I had no money to learn it or buy colors and canvas to practice art. However, the beach (in Puri) was very close to my house, so I used to use sand as my canvas and practice my art there." That is how Pattnaik grew to be a sand sculptor and also became aware of climate change.
"Over the years, I observed the rise in the sea level. Initially, when I had started making sand art, the sea was further away and the beach was bigger. But, with time the sea has moved forward and I know that this is because of climate change. Therefore, I decided to create art on this topic to make people aware of it," said the sand artist.
Pattnaik's work received major recognition in 2008, during the sand sculpture world championship competition in Berlin. Artists were free to pick any topic of their choice for their respective entry, therefore, Pattnaik chose to show the impact of climate change. As his inspiration, he took Knut, the famous polar bear of Germany and showed him sitting on top of a globe with a sign that said, 'Save My Family.'
He depicted several countries around the globe becoming drylands because of climate change. His work received an overwhelming response and was very popular among kids who had come to see Knut's sculptor. Following his Berlin success, he represented India in more than 50 international festivals and has won more than 27 competitions across the world.
However, for Pattnaik, his greatest accomplishment is when his art makes people think about environmental issues. Therefore, be it Ganesh Puja or Durga Puja, with most sand sculptures he makes, he tries to add a message on climate change.
"If I can spread awareness through my art, that will be a big achievement," said Pattnaik. "When people see my art, and click photos of it, along with the photos, they also take back the message I want to convey." He added. Therefore, he tries to make his messages as hard hitting as possible.
Pattnaik believes that it is most crucial to make children aware of climate change.
"If kids are told early on in their lives that they shouldn't litter; if they are made aware that they have to plant trees in their house, these ideas will stay in their heads. And, it is important that they believe in them because it is exactly ideas like these that can empower the future generation to fight climate change." said Pattnaik."If they grow up believing in these ideas, just like they demand toys from their parents, they can also learn to ask their parents to plant new trees." he added.
During a recent summer camp, he chose the theme 'Save Trees' so that kids learn more about it. "My thought behind picking this topic was that if those kids make an art on saving trees then somewhere in them, they would know that they should save trees." said the sand sculptor.
Pattnaik feels every individual should do their part in the fight against climate change. When he saw that untreated drainage water was being dumped into the sea in Puri, adulterating the water and ruining the beaches, he said he thought it was imperative for him to take a stance against it. He started a protest demanding that government treat the polluted waters before dumping it into the sea. Finally, after a lot of struggle, his plea was heard and the government declared that the water will be cleaned before it goes into the sea.
"I protested because the filthy water not only ruined our beaches and polluted the sea, but also killed marine lives, and spoiled the ecosystem of the sea," said the artist.
While Pattnaik has been trying hard to educate people about environmental issues, he said panicking about them won't help. "There are so many people across the world, who in their small and big ways are trying to tackle climate change. And, those who are not, they have to be taught and made aware of its harmful impact," he said.
Awareness and positive thinking can go a long way according to the sand sculptor. Therefore, it is important that public personalities speak out on this issue, he said. "Every big public figure, be it an actor or sportsperson, have thousands of fans and therefore, they have the power to motivate and inspire thousands of people to participate in the fight against climate change." Added Pattnaik.
While he has been actively spreading awareness about climate change through his works, he has no grand illusions about the impact it may or may not have on people. "I can only hope that my art will make an impact on them and make them think about climate change. But, it is not my place to say or think how useful it has been." said Pattnaik," I can only try and it is important to do so, because, urgent action is of utmost importance in saving our planet." he added.
At a time when world leaders are still denying climate change, it is not only important for scientists to remind people of the magnitude of the threat that looms on entire humanity but also for writers, painters, dancing, and musicians to help people understand this threat, and provoke them to take actions. They are painting the picture that hits hard.
#ClimateArt is our series to discover how art, music, and literature have the potential of changing opinions and beliefs about climate change.