Art Keeps Me Alive, Says Mandal Artist From Odisha Swetapadma Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Despite suffering from a dreaded disease, 30-year-old Swetapadma Mishra of Keonjhar town has emerged as an acclaimed mandal artist. In just four years, the self-taught artist has produced nearly 300 impressive art works that have arrested attention of the art fraternity and the media alike.

Even Odisha Governor invited her to the Raj Bhavan for an interaction and felicitation for her achievement.

Excerpts from an interview with Shyamhari Chakra.

Q: Did you ever aspire to be an artist?

A: No. As a student, I always wished to excel in studies. In fact, I topped in botany during my graduation from Dharanidhar Autonomous College, Keonjhar. I was also the topper of the entrance examination for admission into the post-graduation studies of Utkal University. So, I was sure of pursuing a career in academics.

Q: How come then an aspiring scientist became a professional artist!

A: Looking back at the quick twists and turns of my life, I now believe that I was destined to be an artist. During my university days in Bhubaneswar eight years ago, I was detected with a rare neurological disease. I had to undergo two major surgeries and was bed-ridden for four years. I lost almost 60% of my eyesight. A tube has been fitted from brain to stomach through the spinal cord, which has reduced my ability to work like a normal human being.

Thus, I had to discontinue my academic life and return home with much agony and despair over my uncertain future. It was during these days of despair that a love for painting and poetry was kindled in me. I started observing the age-old and traditional art of jhoti chita and alpana that my grandmother used to do during various family rituals. I browsed through internet to know more about such art traditions and finally I got hooked to the sophisticated mandal art style that has evolved from these traditional art practices. I have been a self-taught artist.

Q: How did your artworks got noticed?

A: All credit goes to the social media. I used to share my sketches on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. To my sheer surprise, I started receiving lots of appreciation from the viewers from far and wide. Newspapers and television channels started highlighting me. Some writers and publishers offered me the unique opportunity to draw for their cover pages. I was honoured with Kendujhar Kala Utsav Young Achiever Award. And finally, I was invited to the Raj Bhawan in Bhubaneswar to be felicitated by Odisha Governor as an achiever. All these developments happened in quick succession in less than four years of my career as a mandal artist.

Q: You have got above 300 pieces of Mandal art works. How long does it take to complete a piece of work? And which medium do you use to draw or design your art?

A: The duration of time to complete a piece of work depends on the size and the patterns that I choose for a particular piece. It could range from 5 to 50 hours. Even some of my works have taken about 70 hours because of the intricate design patterns. I usually use thick paper for my drawings which are above 200 GSM. The size of the paper that I often prefer are A3 or A2. I use art pen, thin marker pen, acrylic and water colour in my works and experiments.

Q: Does your health condition allow you to sit and draw for such longer hours?

A: The joy of drawing makes me forget the pain. However, I can’t sit for longer hours at a stretch. So, I take breaks in between. But, on an average, I draw for three to four hours daily and positively.

Q: Why did you specialise in Mandal art?

A: I am deeply interested in spiritualism and found mandal art tradition a manifestation of spiritual and Vedic principles.

Q: Do you only draw images of the gods and goddesses?

A: Though majority of my works revolve round Vedic, mythological and spiritual concepts, I have also drawn portraits of some personalities who have influenced me. I am open to innovation and experimentation. So, I don’t wish to limit my creativity and imagination within a particular concept or element.

Q: Is there a market for your kind of art?

A: One has to create the market for one’s work and I am trying to do so, Art is not only my passion but profession as well. So, I must earn my livelihood from it. I am against the free-of-cost culture of any creative activity.

Q: Art apart, you have also published a book of poems. Why did you decide that the book be released by your grandmother at home?

A: My grandmother has been my greatest source of inspiration in life. Be it academics, art or poetry, her unbound inspiration and encouragement have worked wonders for me. She has taught me the alphabets of Odia and Hindi languages. So, I thought it befitting to release my debut book by her than by any other eminent person.

Q: What are your future plans?

A: I plan to teach mandal art to aspiring artists in future.

Q: You have been an artist by accident. How does it feel?

A: Art has been everything to me today. It has been my passion, profession and identity. If I am alive today and happy, it is due to my art.

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