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The sand artist talks about his five-foot sculpture of Satyajit Ray at Cannes 2014 and a black Taj Mahal.

The sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik; with Kamal Haasan at Cannes as he shows his sculpture of Satyajit Ray. The sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik; with Kamal Haasan at Cannes as he shows his sculpture of Satyajit Ray.

For Padma Shri-awardee Sudarsan Pattnaik, it’s another day at the beach. The sand artist talks about his five-foot sculpture of Satyajit Ray at Cannes 2014 and a black Taj Mahal.

While film stars walked the red carpet at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, its beaches too were celebrating Indian cinema. Tourists at the bustling beach Zamenhof were introduced to Satyajit Ray through a mammoth five-foot sand sculpture of the famous filmmaker’s face resting on a 20-foot film reel in the sand. The Taj Mahal stood not more than a few feet away. As Kamal Haasan and Ramesh Sippy marvelled at the creations, artist Sudarsan Pattnaik, beamed, not upset that these would soon be swept away by the waves. Back from the French Riviera, the Odisha artist has no time to bask in the Cannes glory. In Puri, he has to prepare to cast Narendra Modi in sand on the day he takes oath as Prime Minister. The creation could take from a few hours to a couple of days to make, depending on the size and intricacies. “One should respond to the news; timing is crucial,” says Pattnaik.

The 37-year-old enjoys breakneck schedules. Before his stop at Cannes, he represented India at the world sand sculpting championship in Taiwan. “I’m always itching to experiment and get to a beach,” says the 2014 Padma Shri awardee. Even as his days were spent on the beaches of Odisha, the Election Commission had a task for him. He was their “mascot”, urging people to vote. Apart from sand art slogans such as “Oh man vote” and “Vote for India”, his one-and-a-half-minute sand animation film also promoted the cause. “Art should be put to good use and what can be better than imparting a social message,” says the artist.

The realisation of being awarded the Padma Shri is still sinking in. “When I was informed over the phone in December, I just couldn’t believe it. I asked my friends to confirm,” says Pattnaik. The award now occupies a place of pride in his Puri home, though his critics discouraged him from pursuing the art during his younger days.

He was eight, working as a house help, when he began building sand castles on the beach. “Our father was not with us and we were dependent on my grandmother’s pension of Rs 200,” says Pattnaik. Without playthings, he made shapes out of sand. Sceptics warned him of the temporary nature of his work, but tourists were a constant encouragement.

The big break came in 1998, when Pattnaik was invited to exhibit at the World Travel Market in the UK, followed by the Cricket World Cup in 1999. Since then invitations have been pouring in. Pattnaik has represented India in competitions around the world — from Denmark to Doha, Spain to Singapore, and the US to the UK. He congratulated Barack Obama on winning the presidential elections with a sculpture in Puri and paid a tribute to Benazir Bhutto after her demise. If Buddha imparted a message for peace in Berlin in 2009, Ganesha was blessing Japan few months later. His oft created sculpture though is the Taj Mahal, including a black Taj created on the 350th anniversary of Taj Mahal near the banks of Yamuna. “It’s the pride of India,” he says. With several world records under his belt — including the tallest sand Santa at 25 feet and 100 Santas in a single work — Pattnaik is also doing his bit to promote the art.

Founder of Sudarsan Sand Art Institute, he is often seen at the beaches in Odisha gathering sand to create sculptures. “It’s not time consuming. A flat base is created and sand mixed with water is left for around five-six hours before we begin sculpting,” says Pattnaik, “It’s cast away with the tide but life is temporary too.”

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