Artist Sayanthan Samanta has been seeing farmers from his hometown in Dankuni, West Bengal, turn away from agriculture and take up jobs in cities. He has seen corporates surreptitiously turn fertile farms into fallow scrubs to purchase land at rock-bottom rates. He has gone searching for farming tools, only to know they are being sold as junk.
He turns to these findings at his solo exhibition at the Korean Cultural Centre in New Delhi — titled “Blue Print: A study into changing agrarian landscape” — that compels one to stop and consider the dangers of making ‘concrete’ choices.
In Vacant Spaces Will Not Be Vacant, the Kolkata-based artist outlines shells of warehouses, sheds and offices that could easily take over the vacant landscape in Dankuni. Made from concrete panels, the line drawings over photographs of farmlands tell of how he imagined his own town. “I was studying for my masters at Santiniketan when the land was vacant. But today, a cement company has its warehouse in the same place.”
He points to a corner of one of the panels, which shows a well, and reveals, “My father operated this well and the land mafia came and poured concrete. The farm, which gave us harvest three times a year, barely sustained us once a year thereafter. My father turned to a government job, where he mentors the panchayat in maintaining a nursery and peri-urban agriculture.”
On cement boards, he has miniature paintings of farmers engaged in various activities, from ploughing to harvesting. Using local mud, he presents a semblance of the earth in each of the 33 panels. “Today, it’s difficult to find farmers because most of them have opted for other professions. I’ve attempted to show that idea through the miniatures, where you need to come really close to see what the farmer is doing,” says Samanta, 25.
In a previous show last year in Hyderabad, Samanta used cement boards, brass, fibreglass and clay to bring home the idea of a construction site in progress. In this exhibition too, he has used cement to cast the boards that become a canvas for his installations. In his work Concrete Dinner, the artist presents an entire feast of fruits and meat laid out on a life-size table for six. Everything from the plates to the chairs and the bread is in concrete.
“Making this installation gave me great pleasure. If everything is concrete, what will we eat?” he says. Here he worked with alginate powder, used in tooth moulds, to cast the actual fruits and meat in the installation. “The powder is very fine and takes on impressions of even a thumb print,” says Samanta, “Ultimately, as an artist, I have a responsibility to call out injustice.”
The exhibition is at the Korean Cultural Centre, Delhi, till September 27