Cuttack-based Mamata Samantaray has been an employee of Odisha Police for over 25 years. That’s her profession. However, her passion is fine art and the skill she possesses has put her on a par with any professional painter.
She has emerged as one of the few female artists of the state, who has carved out an identity of her own.
Odisha Lalit Kala Akademi apart, her talent has been recognised by national-level art institutions like Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre and South Zone Cultural Centre under the Ministry of Culture.
Mamata spoke to OdishaBytes in an exclusive interview.
Following are excerpts:
You graduated from BK College of Art in Bhubaneswar but then took up a government job. Did you not wish to take art as your profession?
Since my childhood, I had just one dream – to be an artist. That’s why I studied art. But the death of both parents during my college days destroyed my dream. As the eldest child, I had to take care of my sisters and brothers. I had no option but to take up the job that was offered to me after my father, who was an Inspector of Police, passed away.
Was your dream to be an artist inspired by anyone?
My mother used to say that I was naturally drawn towards drawing. As a kid, I loved to draw something on my books and notes, and even on the walls of our house. My father got me admitted to the famous Kala Vikash Kendra in Cuttack. Eminent artist Late Byomakesh Mohanty (former Secretary of Odisha Lalit Kala Akademi and former faculty member of BK College of Art & Craft) had just joined the Kala Vikash Kendra as an art trainer after his post-graduation from Benaras Hindu University. He guided me to go for higher studies with fine art after my matriculation.
How did the college shape your career?
The five-year course at BK College of Art & Craft in Bhubaneswar made me what I am today. My curiosity on art converted into a definite plan to have it as a career. I was the first female student of the college to top the entrance examination. So I received more attention and guidance from my teachers. I used to get prizes every year for my sketches and paintings during our annual art exhibitions. Great artists like Dinanath Pathy and Siba Panigrahi were our teachers at the college, besides my mentor Byomakesh Mohanty.
Among my classmates were some of the renowned artists of today like Jagannath Panda and Tarakant Parida. So college life contributed the most in my career as an artist.
Could you continue with art after you started working?
Before I could recover from the shock of losing my father that killed my dream of pursuing post-graduation, I had to join work. Then, I got married and had children too. For nearly seven years, I could not even think of doing anything with art.
However, it was due to my friend Tarakant Parida, founder of Modern Odisha Art Gallery in Bhubaneswar, that I could be back in art. He used to invite me to all the shows at his gallery and kept on insisting that I must paint. He made me a founder-member of the Women Artists’ Forum that was formed with the help of his Gallery.
With a job and family, how do you find time to paint?
From early morning until dinner, I have no time for leisure. But after that, I sit down with my canvas and at times, paint even past midnight. This was the only option I had to balance my work, family and passion to be an artist. For me, my art is where my heart is.
We usually come across veiled women and empty vessels in your paintings. Is there any specific reason for this?
Although I was born and brought up in a city, typical rural women attract me the most as an artist. I often think about their lives, their struggle with daily chores without any dream of their own. They are made to stay behind the veils for centuries. One of the common scenes that we come across in villages are women walking with pots to fetch water for the family. I feel miserable watching these scenes. So the above two themes recur in my paintings.
Do you have a weakness towards any particular colour and concept as an artist?
I use the red colour in my paintings very often and it has been a deliberate preference. Red symbolises women empowerment. My other favourite concept is patriotism.
A large number of girls get admitted to various art colleges of Odisha, but very few sustain themselves as professional artists in comparison to their male counterparts. Do they lack commitment to art as a career?
They study art because they aspire to be artists. They do have the dream, talent and commitment. But our conservative society does not encourage them to take up art as a career. Of course, of late, we now find more number of female artists from Odisha who are able to establish themselves outside the state. Our future depends mainly on our parents. As young students, we require parental support and encouragement in order to do justice to our talent or fulfil dreams. My father was a police officer. Yet, he allowed and encouraged me to be an artist. He also supported my sister to be a cricketer and my brother to take up athletics.
Similarly, I support and encourage my son who studies engineering but dreams of being a magician. In fact, he is already in the news as a budding magician.