ByÂ Siddharth Sivakumar:
As the June sun climbed the sky and made Santiniketan look bright and bountiful, three of us set out for the sculpture park that lies on the heart of khoai, the red laterite spread. With the expansion of the Visva Bharati University, new buildings are being erected one after the other. Nature now jostles for space against these cluttered buildings, which in a peculiar sense have become quite inseparable from nature. We silently crossed Natyaghar, the university auditorium, and into a patch of lush green that led to the barren red landscape. There was a small rivulet gushing across the green stretch that drew its life and movement from a leaking water-tank not far away. We nonchalantly hopped over the rivulet that had rubbles in it.
On the undulating laterite cover, a few lenient trees still bent their branches and provided dappled shades. Under such a shade sat a solitary security man guarding the unfinished but large open air sculptures. A giant soil slug with bamboo spikes on its back was the first to greet us. Then, a mud-hut brushed with cement. Following that there was a cube made of bricks. Then, clay pots and pitchers, both regular and deformed, sepulchred in loose soil. And on a central plane, rested few chopped giant trunks. Twisted veins and long slender ribs coiled over one another, like a bundle of snakes at play.
These seem to be as natural as the rivulet that flows from the draining and dripping water-tank. In a sense, the sculptures have become quite inseparable from nature. But then, buildings maybe taller, stronger, more colourful- they are no match for trees. Through ostensibly natural, these sculptures remain inorganic at the core. While the spiked slug appears to be missing a pulse, the trunks are like Modigliani’s death mask – a souvenir of a living body and a reminder of an artist who could wish life on canvas, create warm faces and not cold masks.
In Genesis, “the God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” These land sculptures made of dust and soil, are yet to be finished, their creators are yet to breathe the vital breath of life and vitality into them. By the time the park is completed, we hope to have the Garden of Eden before us.
A little further stands another sculpture; largest of all and spectacular. From the distance, as we strain our eyes, it looks like a burg or a mosque soaked in blood. Arching the 20 feet high structure from behind is a green tree, while a bare bodied tree with bifurcated branches guards it from front. I have been a visitor here more than a decade ago, when I was just old enough to explore the lonely parts of the neighbourhood on a bicycle twice my size. This burg was a ruined wreck, with overgrown nettles that gave it a scary appearance. I remember how the bigger boys had informed me then with a lot of excitement, “It is a burning ground . . . right there bodies are burnt at night.” And as we replaced the bigger boys of the neighbourhood by stepping into their shoes, the rumour spread that it was a Naxalite hideout. But all these speculations and ‘information’ were discussed and cooked from a safe distance. I was later told that it was actually a shooting range for the local NCC cadets. However it was only today, after so many years, in broad daylight, accompanied by the other two, I had the courage to explore the burg that has for long housed many myths and mysteries, catering to our imagination.
The closer we approached the structure, its massiveness peeled away and the architectonics became clearer. It is, I now saw, a group of thin walls running side-by-side at different heights eliciting the kind grandeur that is found in a castle of cards. But it is not a castle of cards; it is a castle of red oleanders. The burg has been refurbished by the artist. Small round holes wrap the building from top to bottom, as if the building has endured a war. Drenched in bullet rain, the building reminds me of its speculative past, where Naxal militants might have lost their lives or the young NCC cadets might have practiced their shots. And from many of these bullet holes, bloomed red and scarlet oleanders, made of terracotta. The evergreen flower, which usually grows around dry stream beds, becomes a sign of recuperation as it warmly overruns the building. Still we cannot really be sure whether it is a burg or a mosque. While a burg corresponds to a set of associations that are closely linked with aggression and violence in one form or the other, a mosque is emblematic of peace and reconciliation between body and soul, despair and hope, in this case, the inorganic and the organic. Like a climbing creeper, a new layer of myth slowly grows around it, consuming and reproducing some of the older ones.
Situated on a desolate and dry landscape, between a lush green tree and a lifeless one with outstretched arms, the concrete sculpture partly covered in red flowers has an organic glow that catches our eyes even when we are far away from it.