(October 13, 2021) “The beach was my canvas and my fingers, the brush. Water gave shape to my sculpture and the only color needed was that of sand,” said Bhubaneswar-based sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik, echoing his sentiment towards his art. Something he has been dedicated to for the last four decades. Infusing a sort of life into sand is no easy feat but Pattnaik is the master of this art form. The Padma Shri-awardee has been enchanting the world with his body for years now, and every other day, a new surprise springs up on the beaches of the world, courtesy Pattnaik.
While his beautiful art has found an audience across the globe, this 44-year-old had to fight a long battle to get fame and recognition. A school drop out, who worked at a neighbor’s house to make meets end, loved making sand sculptures. This love soon translated into passion and made him one of the biggest names in India and abroad. Here’s the inspiring journey of this Global Indian who persevered to make a mark in the world.
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How beach became his canvas
Born in a poor family in 1977 in Puri, Pattnaik was quite creative from a tender age. But the financial struggles for this then young boy were so real that he couldn’t afford to buy material for painting as he lived on the ₹200 that his grandfather received as pension. To make ends meet, he would work at his neighbor’s home. Between the tiresome chores, he would often go to the beach and use it as his canvas. “I loved playing with the sand, which gradually turned into a passion. Sand art came to me naturally and no one taught me how to do it. I learnt as I struggled. I started at the age of 7 and here I am painting my imagination in the nature,” he told OneIndia in an interview.
His sand sculptures caught people’s attention, and this inspired him to continue creating magic with sand, despite the art being rather uncommon at the time. Pattnaik, who studied till class six, had to drop out of school due to financial constraints. But this detour led him towards sand sculpting, something that was set to take him to his destiny. However, being a sand artist was equally challenging because most people considered it to be temporary art. Regardless, Pattnaik persevered and is happy that it shaped him as an artist and an individual. During the process, he picked up various languages as he often met many foreign tourists who visited the Puri beach and they helped him diversify his vocabulary. “I did not know English, but God granted me a gift. Since I used to work on the beaches where people from various countries came, I picked up several languages from there. When I started participating in various national and international competitions, I had to communicate and there I picked up a few more languages,” he added.
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An art form unheard of
When Pattnaik began doing sand art in the 90s, not many understood him or his art. It took many years for people to finally recognize his talent and appreciate his work. “For about 16 years, I worked hard to make sand sculpting popular because this was an art form that was hardly known in those days. People only thought of sand sculptures as art forms that could be easily destroyed,” he told Parent Circle.
Pattnaik was convinced that sand sculpting could be at par with other arts so in 1991 he started Sudarsan Sand Art Institute in Puri where he teaches children this art form.
Things started to look up for him when he received his first international invitation. However, his financial condition often played spoilsport which ultimately led to his visa being rejected. Eventually with support from the Indian government, his first international trip happened in 1998 when he exhibited his work during the World Travel Market in London. This was the beginning of a new innings for him. Soon he was travelling to countries like France, China, Singapore and Denmark to participate in championships. In 2001, he won the third prize in World’s Master Sand Sculpture’s Championship in Italy and soon started picking up trophies at various international festivals.
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If he was winning accolades abroad, back home too, Pattnaik had become a star. In 2004, he won the National Youth Award and the very next year, he picked up the National Tourism Award. In 2009, he was named the People of the Year by Limca Book. Not just this, former President of India, Pratibha Patel felicitated him on her visit to Puri. These laurels were a testimony to the growing popularity of his art. While Pattnaik had become a popular name, he went a step further and scripted history when he set a Guinness World Record for creating World’s Tallest Sand Castle in 2012.
In the last two decades, Pattnaik has represented India in over 60 sand sculpture championships across the globe. If he won People’s Choice Prize in Bulgaria in 2016, he won a gold medal in Russia in 2017. But one of his biggest moments came in 2019 when he became the first Indian to win the Italian Golden Sand Art Award for his teen-feet high sand sculpture of Mahatma Gandhi.
The reason that Pattnaik’s world has found a fan following across the globe is that his work highlights social issues. “People easily connect with my sculptures. Most of my art forms are about social issues like social degradation and evils in the society. I believe that these issues should be discussed in today’s world and putting it out artistically will draw a lot of people’s attention,” he told The Citizen.
When Pattnaik started sand sculpting, it looked like a far-fetched dream but the 44-year-old transformed his dream into a reality with his hard work and determination.