Earthworks: Explorations of Sculpture

Ishwari Arambam

IARF grantees Bhimanshu Pandel and Kanchan Karjee explore their roots through the practice of sculpture.


In June of 2021, MAP in partnership with 1Shanthiroad Studio launched a relief fund to support artists and their work during the difficult times posed by the Covid 19 pandemic. Open to all practising artists in India, the relief fund received an overwhelming response with over 1000 applications. Twenty artists were selected by an independent jury comprising Paula Sengupta, Radha Mahendru, Indrapramit Roy and Suresh Jayaram. The jury members also offered mentorship conversations to the artists. 

In an attempt to showcase the exciting work that was achieved under this grant, we have placed the grantees and their artworks in conversation with each other, to respond to and facilitate a conversation around the common themes or concerns addressed in their art.


If you would know strength and patience, welcome the company of trees.
– Hal Burland

Weeping Willow, Bhimanshu Pandel, 2021, Image courtesy of the artist

The Weeping Willow is a work produced as a result of Bhimanshu Pandel’s exploration of the world of trees. The sculptural installation manifests as a chimaera inspired by multiple tree species. Born in Jaipur, Rajasthan, Pandel’s research and fascination is fuelled by myth-making values that are woven into the folk stories that permeate the region. His research led him to the Khejri tree, a species that thrives in the desert surviving hardships of continued drought and scarcity of water for many years. 

A 400-year old Khejri tree in Rajasthan, Bhimanshu Pandel, 2020, Image courtesy of the artist

The eight feet tall, ten feet wide structure began as a drawing that attempted to capture the mood of the final piece. The image resembles a spine-tingling wormhole. It is composed of a swarm of thorn-like parts that seem to beat and pulsate. And yet, its abstract fluency takes the viewer to a familiar and calm setting. 

Initial Drawing, Bhimanshu Pandel, 2020, Image courtesy of the artist

While the final piece has gone through multiple iterations, its otherworldly essence has grown in size and depth. It may be significant to note that the Khejri tree is iconographic in Rajasthani culture. Considered sacred to the community, farmers here rely on the Khejri for sustenance – for fruit, medicine, and fire. It is the very tree that inspired the Chipko movement, and is symbolic of strength and resilience in many oral stories of Nagaur. For Pandel, the association goes a step further. The tree’s qualities are akin to magical anecdotes as heard in the folk stories narrated by family in Nagaur. These stories were the beginning of his desire to “present a contemporary visual language which is rooted in pre-colonial visual traditions.” 

Untitled, Bhimanshu Pandel, 2021, Print, Image courtesy of the artist

The tree resembles a mythical figure bearing ancient meanings – the trunk that resembles the African Baobab sporting seeds, branches that fold inwards in a gesture of protection, its texture and robustness, fruits dipping towards the ground, and finally, a gentle mirage that reflects the tree before liquidating into the earth. The artist contemplates the ways in which people may have perceived the tree over years of transmitting its symbolism through oral narratives. It is a wild attempt to bridge this gap between the community and his practice.

The work attempts to explore said metaphorical truths and dictums on material and conceptual levels. Created during a time when research shows that Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) can provide models for a time-tested form of sustainability, Pandel’s work is a response to the age of the anthropocene. It is made using materials that will disintegrate – mud, sand, marble powder, and khadi (gypsum) – flouting permanency and underpinning the idea of temporality. In time, the sculpture, subject to the elements and their fragility, will return to the earth.

Kanchan Karjee’s practice in figuration is drawn from observations. Borne from a keen awareness within the artist, the works try to emulate a creative visual narrative around the experience of growing up in suburban Kolkata. Karjee’s work draws on the imagery of a child, emphasising the importance of childhood in our lives. This speaks volumes of the emotional attachment he feels towards this time of life.

A farming boy with abandoned elements, Kanchan Karjee, 2021, Wood, Bronze, Iron, Image courtesy of the artist

A farming boy with abandoned elements is an adaptation of multifarious scenes that Karjee witnessed in his native land where the people are engaged in farming. The boy in bronze and iron is adorned in earthy terracotta; the farming tool is an extension of his missing leg; the eyes are gently closed; and his arm reaches out to show the viewer the palm of his hand. Beneath this exterior, there is an incompleteness to the sculpture. The missing hand that sits on the tool below, and the fragility of balancing on a single leg – all point toward the condition and the lives of farmers and their plight.The fragmentation of the body also speaks of how identities of farmers are undeniably tied to the instability that comes with the precarious nature of their work.

It is not uncommon for people living in rural areas to migrate to the imagination of a city. The imagination is that the city holds greater promise and opportunities for survival.The reality, however, is often far from this vision. Karjee’s experience of migrating to metropolitan Kolkata, and seeing his community struggle inspired this piece. His work attempts to respond to this dynamic. The work as such is far from evoking nostalgia. He looks at his memories of growing up in his native place and of moving to a cityscape through a multi-faceted vision.

Face Ventilator, Kanchan Karjee, 2021, Terracotta, Image courtesy of the artist

Face Ventilator, according to Karjee is a generalised form of the portraiture of women in Islam, Hinduism and Christianity. The sculpture resembles a bust, with the top portion as the head and the bottom indicating a neck. The face, like its title, has been carved to resemble a ventilator. Kolkata is home to numerous old churches and houses built during the colonial era. These buildings are known to exhibit geometric designs as seen on the sculpture’s face here. The shape of its head mimics a veil that is usually worn along with a nun’s habit. The ventilator faces the sky, and you can see dark shadows being cast on its holes. If you look closely, you may find beauty in the patterns formed by the shadows, the play of light and darkness.

Ishwari Arambam is an Event Coordinator at MAP. Her love language involves jazzy hip-hop, homemade thalis and brothy meals.

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