Kapilas Bhuyan, Senior Journalist and Filmmaker, ruminates over the life and time of Dr. Dinanath Pathy (9th January1942 – 29th August 2016).
(It’s indeed a good news that Ila Panda Centre for Arts (IPCA) has been celebrating Dinanath’s Living Palette CHITRANGI : A Retrospective (29th August to 3rd September, 2017) on the 1st Death Anniversary of Dr. Dinanath Pathy, the master painter, author, scholar, art historian, educator and visualiser, and a visionary.)
Recounting my precious moments with Dr. Dinanath Pathy and hearing the similar stories from others, I am truly in awe by the fact that how many lives this “towering personality” has inspired and influenced.
What is it that stirred the artistic journey of Dr. Dinanath Pathy, a village muralist and theater curtain-painter from the quagmire of nondescript moorings, and made him a symbol of inspiration and an artistic identity in the pan-Indian art scenario?
The journey is nonlinear, but multilayered waves that collect in its moving folds several other creative dimensions such as art history, literature, art teaching, art administration, institution building and art activism – a synthesizing combination – are unique and rare.
His journey was beset with provocative challenges and insurmountable risks. Sometimes he walked alone and other times shared his path with others – always engaged in the sacred world of his arts, celebrating his home called Odisha and its people.
It was a long journey, not in terms of the physical distances that he had covered from Digapahandi, where he was born seventy-four years ago, to Delhi, Zurich, London, Paris or elsewhere in the world of art. It was an inner creative journey of a non-descript village make-up boy opening and flowering as a painter and taking with him the friends, colleagues and students who wanted to be emancipated from a world of incongruity.
Apprenticeship in “The Temple of Fine Arts” (Charukala Mandira) at Digapahandi
Dr. Dinanath Pathy was born in a princely town Digapahandi in South Odisha in a family of poets, artists, singers, puppeteers and quacks. His forefathers were in the service of the royal court in the town and wielded considerable influence. However, by the time Dinanath was born, the family was reduced to penury and maintained themselves as rural artists. His elder brother Lokanath Pathy had an art studio christened as ‘Charukala Mandir’ or Temple of Fine Arts, which used to produce all kinds of artifacts from masks, playing cards, paper flowers to photo framing, harmonium repairing and book binding.
While studying in the George V High School, Dinanath had started working as a novice in his brother’s studio and visited with him the nearby villages and small towns to assist him in painting theater curtains, temple murals and as a projectionist to display slides through a handmade magic lantern to a curious audience. The viewers used to get enamoured with his colour drawings on mythology which were being projected through the lantern. Painting human beings as tigers for the popular Tiger Dance of South Odisha, painting the theater curtains with western perspective, giving make up to the artistes of Sakhi Nata, in which boys adorned themselves in the garb of cute girls and Radha Prema Lila and other folk theaters were his other expertise area as a professional artist, though he himself was a young boy at that time. Along with his brother and father, Dinanath used to prepare toys, whirling paper flowers, roses and jasmine flowers and sell them in village fairs under makeshift stalls in order to earn the living for the family.
Learning Rudiments on the Bank of Chilika
Dinanath joined the Govt. College of Art and Crafts, Khallikote in 1958. But before joining here, he had to work as an English teacher in a local Sanskrit Tole to save money to pursue his higher education.
At Khallikote his eyes opened for appreciating and executing art under the tutelage of teachers like Rabi Narayan Nayak, Bipra Charan Mohanty, Loknath Satpathy, Ajit Keshari Ray and Anant Panda, etc., all of whom had a lineage either from the Kala Bhawan of Shantiniketan or from the Govt. College of Art, Calcutta. However, the principal Sarat Chandra Debo, an alumnus of London school of Art was strikingly different from all his colleagues and had been harping on a kind of synthesis. That had influenced Dinanath a great deal.
The Art College at Khallikote is located on the height of a mountain base overlooking to the picturesque Chilika, the largest brackish water lake in India. During the four years Dinanath spent at Khallikote, the tutelage of these veterans and the inspiration from the body of water of the beautiful Chilika could make him as a sensitive artist in making.
During his student years Dinanath made water colour paintings like Brave Tribal Family (1959), Dream Girl, Shepherd Family, Time for Bathing, The Obedient (all in 1960) and Birth of Krishna (1961), etc. During this time he won an award in the 1st Annual Exhibition by the Odisha Lalit Kala Akademy for his landscape painting My Village (1961). This had inspired him a lot.
Life of Struggle on a Hostile Terrain
Struggle for survival as a painter began when he arrived in Bhubaneswar and was employed as an artist in the Odisha State Planning Board. No doubt Bhubaneswar was fabulously rich with innumerable beautifully carved stone temples and rock-cut caves; the atmosphere for practice of modern art was sterile. A number of artists left Odisha for their attraction to gallery and market facilities, or for survival. But Dinanath decided to stay, put and strive to save his soul as an artist and change inertia into activity. He subsequently devoted a large chunk of his time for art organization activities, or for art activism.
He wanted to improve his English to tackle the onslaught of the high officials in the Govt. and interact with them. He enrolled himself in the evening college, and could successfully get his degrees in B.A., M.A., and even PhD, all privately.
In Bhubaneswar, Dinanath organized a confederation of artists known as Silpi Samsad. He was its founding Secretary, and responsible for opening an art school ‘Chitram’. Veteran theater person Asim Basu was his colleague in the school. Subsequently, a federation of artists in the model of Progressive Artists of Bombay was formed under the title Working Artists Association or WA, Odisha, and he became its founding secretary too.
WA, Odisha organized group art exhibitions in Bhubaneswar, Calcutta, New Delhi, Madras, Bombay and Chandigarh, published catalogues and newsletters in English to reach out to the national forums. In order to recognize the new experiments, and support young and upcoming artists WA, Odisha organized annual art exhibitions, art camps, seminars and publications of which he was the pivot. Later on two significant artists Chandrasekhar Rao and Ramahari Jena joined the group.
Subsequently, under the leadership of Dinanath, a series of organizations were formed, such as Sunanda Pathy Foundation, Orissa Cultural Forum and Orissa Crafts Council, etc. and various art projects and activities were successfully handled. The latest being Angarag, a quarterly journal on art, dance, music, theater and cinema with a tagline “Putting Art in all the Places”, which he had been continued to do till the end.
Experimenting in Art Education in Odisha, Going Back to the Roots
It was a great challenge for Dinanath to build a college of art in Bhubaneswar, evolving a new pattern of art education. He had a vision and a dream. He often used to wonder, why should he leave two thousand years of Odishan art and technology behind and blindly initiate a colonial syllabus which was merely meant to develop skills. So he tried to develop hand, head and heart approach by stimulating intellectual pursuit and emotional content.
Dinanath devised a yearly programme to supplement the morbid government syllabi comprising still life, life study and nature study, etc. and invited crafts persons, architects, writers and poets to the art college he had founded – B K College of Art and Crafts. He started publishing journals from paintings, graphics, sculptures, applied art and art history departments, organized workshops, camps and art fairs. For the first time bronze casting, stone carving and terracotta training camps were organized. He started a kind of outsourcing and used the facilities available at the Regional Centre of Lalit Kala Akademi, for example the Graphic Studio to train up the students of his college. All these activities helped students to open up and gave them wings to fly. “In the process they learnt more than I taught – reciprocity was overwhelming”, Dinanath used to say.
Taking Indian Art to the International Platform
In 1977, Dinanath met Dr. Eberhard Fischer, the Director of Museum Rietberg, Switzerland and his wife Barbara Fischer who were in Odisha to study and document the state’s art and culture and mount an exhibition in Zurich. He was appointed as their guide and the bonding continued till the end. Dinner Party (as Dinanath Pathy sounds in local tongue) in the first meeting could elevate himself and became Dr. Fischer’s co-author and colleague in several national and international art projects and art publications. The first successful venture was the Odisha Exhibition in the Museum Rietberg in 1980 and the book Orissa Kunst Und Kultur in Nordost Indien in German language in collaboration with Dr. Sitakant Mahapatra, now a renowned poet and scholar. Eberhard opened for Dinanath the wonders to the world-art as he later used an expression “shaped and polished an uncut diamond”.
Eberhard Fischer introduced Dinanath to Prof. B. N. Goswamy, an internationally renowned scholar of Chandigarh who was instrumental to get him appointed as the Curator of international exhibitions of Festival of India – Indian Popular Art in Sweden and USSR. This gave him enormous scope to visit India once again looking for and selecting exhibits and planning exhibition on a grand scale which was liked and admired by the people in those countries. Dinanath included several of his students and colleagues in this exhibition projects and gave them the benefit of sharing his experience.
Taking Art to the National Capital
Dinanath was called upon to join the Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi as its Secretary at a very critical time when the Akademi was drowned in petty politics. He tried to chart out his own action plan to revitalize the Akademy’s activities and make it art minded. The two years period he stayed in Delhi was vibrant. He carried with himself Odisha which had remained neglected until then. The exhibition ‘Beyond the Shores’ organized at Rabindra Bhavan highlighting teacher-student working relations in a contemporary sense gave much needed fillip to his former students and made them known at the national level.
Art as Meditation on the Banks of Ganga
Dinanath got the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship to work on a challenging project, Art of Renewal – a study of art practices in chitrakar workshops in the country. He moved all over the country looking for traditional art studios where art of renewal is undertaken, for example the Navakalevar – making of new images of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra in the Jagannath Temple in Puri, Odisha.
With the input from Eberhard Fischer, he took over the Alice Bonner Institute, Varanasi as its Director in 2000. The location on the banks of Ganga is quiet and serene. He used Swiss artist and scholar Alice Boner’s studio. Unhindered he went on painting, composing poetry and writing several art fictions and a critical book on Odissi Dance. He came up with a landmark exhibition of paintings titled ‘Ganga to Ganges’ – he painted all of it in Varanasi highlighting the pollution of the river. The exhibition travelled to Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai, ABC Gallery in Varanasi, Swiss Embassy in New Delhi and Museum Rietberg.
The experience he gained in Varanasi is meditative – sitting on the banks of the world’s most ancient river Ganga, Dinanath explored his inner vision of beauty, from form to formlessness, from poetry to incantations, from seeing to realizing.
The sadness on the morning of 29th August when Dinanath passed away, soon turned into a sense of mission as all his students and long time artist friends from all over the country were already gathered in Bhubaneswar to attend the ensuing mega event in the evening of the same day ‘Odisha Art Conclave – 2016’, his brain child. The event was being organized under the aegis of Ila Panda Centre for Arts (IPCA), a newly formed art institution operating under his guidance.
Dinanath was very well known for his astute planning, and that’s what he proved finally before leaving for his heavenly abode, left his worldly remains in the hands of his loving students, as if whispering to them his wishes to spread the cause of art all around.