By Vivian Miezianko
Northwest Asian Weekly
What descriptive expressions come to mind when the word art is mentioned? Beautiful, moving, avant-garde, magnificent, shocking?
How about ephemeral? If an art form epitomizes ephemeralness, what do you think of? Does sand sculpting call out to you?
The World Championship of Sand Sculpting is being held in Federal Way, September 8 to October 3.
According to its website, this event is “the largest gathering of sand sculptors in the world.” The event is being held in the United States “for the first time in history.” Among its solo competitors is Sudarsan Pattnaik, a world-renowned sand sculptor from Puri, India.
A master sand artist from a Hindu holy site
Sudarsan Pattnaik has been creating sand sculptures for more than 20 years. Born near the water in Puri, he went “to the beach every day to play with sand” when he was small. Puri, a Hindu holy site, has long been acquainted with sand art. Pattnaik stressed the importance of his hometown’s association with sand sculpting by citing a Puri myth on his website. In the 14th century, poet Balaram Das, a devotee of Lord Jagannath, was once not allowed to climb the chariot to pray during the Chariot Festival. Frustrated, he went to the beach and carved the statues of lords and three chariots with sand. The lords then came to his sand chariots to take his prayer.
Developing an interest in sand sculpting
“As a child, I struggled with my life,” he said. “At age 10, my family suffered very hard. Six people had to survive on $5 a month. I could not study in school. [There was] no food. I went to the beach very early in the morning, like 2 a.m., until 6 a.m. I practiced sand sculpting. I had much interest doing art in this medium.”
“At that time, people didn’t understand me,” he pointed out, as sand art was not considered a professional form of art in India.
Self-taught, Pattnaik faced the difficulty of not having a teacher to refine his skills at the onset of his sand sculpting journey. To compensate for that, he listened to “what [the onlookers] say and tried to make changes.”
During his teenage years, when he was sculpting sand, people stood by, looked on, and complimented his art. “They encouraged me,” said Pattnaik. Soon he came to the realization that he wanted to make sand sculpting his profession and wanted to create sand art in other cities and abroad.
The journey continues …
Since then, Pattnaik’s art has matured. He has been to more than 40 international sand sculpting competitions and events. He has won many awards, including the world champion title at the International Sand Art Championship in Berlin in 2008. In 1995, he founded a sand art institute at the Puri beach where he teaches students from different countries. Sand art has also become more popular.
In regard to the art form’s ephemeral nature, Pattnaik said, “Everything is temporary. Our lives are temporary. Sand sculptures are beautiful and touch the hearts of people. Because they are temporary, people hurry to see them. That’s why people like them so much.”
Pattnaik finds inspiration everywhere. His subjects range from gods and goddesses to political figures. It takes from five minutes to 15 days to carve a sculpture. He explained, “[It] depends on the quantity of the sand and the site.”
Pattnaik also strives to raise social awareness of different global issues in his art. “I feel as an artist, I have to do something to give social messages to people,” he said. “When something happens in the world, I want to [express] it immediately with sand.” Global warming, save the turtles, and AIDS awareness are some of the themes of his past works. Pattnaik was recognized with a People of the Year award in 2009 in India.
His family and the Puri residents are very supportive of his work. He said, “I never try to win prizes. When I [take part in] competitions, I think of what messages I should give people [through sand art].”
“I’d like to [establish] a sand sculpture park, in Puri or any other place in the world, if I can get the land. It is where students can learn the art form. … And it is good for tourists and [the locals].” ♦
The World Championship of Sand Sculpting is being held from Sept. 8 to Oct. 3 in Federal Way. For more information, visit www.worldchampionshipofsandsculpting.com. For more information on Sudarsan Pattnaik, visit www.sandindia.com.
Vivian Miezianko can be reached at email@example.com.