Holding the world in a grain of sand-MANASA KAMBANNA,THE HINDU

Raghavendra Hegde can create wonders from sand. It can at once be the canvas for multiple images. The artist hopes to take it to a large number of people

Slapping a fist full of granules on a fine surface, Raghavendra Hegde creates an endless canvas of images in his modest studio in Bangalore. One image leads to another, and the movement from one image to another is what narrates the story. Raghavendra is a pioneer in sand art, and has made this art form unique and interesting. A woman’s face can turn into a peacock which can become innumerable clouds in the sky! Such is the flexibility of this medium, rare to come by in other art forms. Demonstrating it, Raghavendra explains, “I can make this figure close its eyes, smile, wear spectacles, have a moustache and in the very next moment erase them all. An artist can do this, but not on a single sheet of paper.” The properties of ‘sand’ offers this possibility to create limitless images on a single surface. “Sand is also eco-friendly,” adds Raghavendra, who has just completed 500 sand art shows.

Holding the world in a grain of sand

Apart from sand and a frame fitted with lights, a camera mounted on a tall stand is required to capture the art. Then a projector to reproduce what is captured by the camera on to the screen live. “When I was inspired by a video of sand art animation back in 2010 and decided to stage similar shows in India, the biggest challenge was technology. As no one knew how to capture it here, photographers stood all around the frame. It not only was cumbersome for me, but failed in achieving the purpose. Next challenge was what kind of light to use for the frame. The lights I had chosen initially almost burnt my fingers. Lastly, where to get the sand from? I stopped by every major town along the western and eastern coast lines of India and collected samples to see which suited the best for my art,” narrates Raghavendra, about the peculiar struggles he faced taking up an art form which is practised by a handful of artistes in India, currently.

“Exploring a new medium was extremely exciting for me. There are a hundred ways to show a tree, a fish, sea and rain, and I constantly explore different ways to represent things,” he says drawing a variety of leaves on the sand frame.

The first two years however provided him only a couple of shows and his career accelerated only after 2012. From concerts to religious events, he has staged his shows all over India including the Rashtrapati Bhavan. As a visual artist he collaborated with composer Ricky Kej for his Shanti Samsara, a mega musical project with 500 musicians from 40 countries, to create images that emphasise the need to conserve ecology and coexist.

Temporariness of the art form hasn’t bothered me. In fact, it is the other way round. It brings playfulness which I enjoy the most.

He collaborates or keeps in touch with people from all artistic fields and literary circles. “This has come naturally to me as my interests range from mythology to theatre. It is important to converse with people from allied fields as it enhances knowledge and in turn, art.”

Time is very precious to him. Even though he is a self-employed artist, he is under no pressure to come on time to his workspace, yet, he is there at 9 a.m. sharp. “This studio is my empire to which I crave to come back every single day. I post at least one drawing everyday on my blog,” he says, joyfully.

All two-dimensional visual arts have a definite product in the end, while sand animation does not. It is only sand that’s on the frame, both in the beginning and in the end. Has the temporariness of this art form bothered him at any point in time? “I do not see it in that way at all. In fact, this temporariness brings playfulness to the art form which I enjoy the most. The performing aspect of this art form has made me stage it in front of thousands of people. What more can I ask for?” he asks.

A sculptor in the initial days of his career, he has not ventured into sand-sculpting. After he got into sand animation, it seemed to have so much potential that he felt his whole life was not enough to explore this one art form. “Sand animation is still in its initial stages of evolution and it is being viewed more as a technique. However, when more artists take this up, it will evolve into a full-fledged art form,” he explains.

From the heart
  • The most memorable moment as a sand animation artist for Raghavendra Hegde was performing at Gavi Siddeshwara Jatre, Koppala where five lakh people gather every year.
  • He has been performing till now, in future, he plans to teach sand animation to children.

Does sand animation fall under visual arts or performing arts? Though knowledge of visual arts is necessary for it, according to him, it cannot be repudiated as a performing art as it is presented in front of the audience. “Have you watched how artist B.K.S. Varma puts his hand up on stage, takes a turn before he draws anything on paper? Isn’t it but a performance? Moreover, on many occasions I am required to present impromptu and even if some shows are rehearsed, few things just happen on stage over which I don’t have control,” he says.

Although Raghavendra Hegde did not have a guru specifically for sand art, from time to time he has been guided by senior scholars and artistes. He holds Shatavdhani Ganesh in high esteem. “When he first watched my show, he told me: ‘Raghu sand animation is like dollu kunita, it loses its magnificence if it is over 10 minutes. Try to keep it crisp.’ I have followed his words till date and I perform beyond that duration only if it is a lecture demonstration or a jugalbandhi,” says Raghavendra who has learnt aspects of Natya Shastra from the Sanskrit scholar.

How does he wish to take his art forward? “I want to build a bigger studio where people from all walks of life can enter, pick up a brush, clay, sand or a wire to create stuff of their own. Art is meant for each and every human being and I wish to take it to people without formal training in it. If it gives them a space devoid of all tensions of mundane life, I am satisfied,” he states.

Holding the world in a grain of sand

On improvisation, Raghavendra says: “This obsession with art or creative madness comes from within. I have had beautiful childhood amidst nature in Uttara Kannada where we used to design our own toys with objects available in our surroundings. My parents left me free to do what I wished to. After marriage my wife Archana has made my life more beautiful. Basically, I’m blessed with a blissful life and this prompted me to contribute to the society from which I have received so much.”

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