A coal miner’s son turned artist. Now, he depicts their struggles in charcoal

  • Riddhi Doshi, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Apr 07, 2016 18:20 IST
Artist Prabhakar Pachpute at work inside the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai (Photo: Aalok Soni)

Prabhakar Pachpute has seen the struggles of Maharashtra’s farmers-turned-miners first-hand. Now, their struggles find expression through his works

One step after another and several more to follow; reaching the topmost floor of the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai, is quite a climb. So has been 30-year-old artist Prabhakar Pachpute’s creative journey.

A 226-ft-circular wall at the gallery showcases images of farmers-turned-miners, the giddy pace at which mining is growing in India, and Pachpute’s experiences while following his subjects from his home town in Chandrapur, Maharashtra, to Turkey, Italy, Australia and the UK.

You are initiated into the visual drama with an evocative title — No, it wasn’t the locust cloud (Te tolanche dhaga navhate in Marathi). “A locust is an insect that looks like a cloud and can eat away an entire farm,” says Pachpute, adding, “It is used as a metaphor for land grabbers.”

Image showing farmers spraying pesticides made available through the state’s relief packages (Photo: Aalok Soni)

Coming home

In this context, it refers to those who turn lush green fields into coal mines and make mining labourers out of farmers. It hits close to home for Pachpute who saw his grandfather and elder brother go through the process. “If a few farmers in the vicinity agree to sell their land to make a mine, others are sort of forced to. When mining commences, rainfall gets affected and the resultant pollution destroys the surrounding farms.”

Pachpute’s family was also forced to sell its farm: “I have heard stories about my grandfather earning `1, a lump of coal and some kerosene as his salary for working at the mine.”

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Stories like these became the focal point of his practice in the final year of his Master’s in Fine Arts (sculpture) at MS University, Baroda. “In 2010, artist Tushar Joag told me about the mining tragedy in Chile, where 33 miners were stuck and later rescued. A similar incident occurred in Chandrapur, but no one covered the story. This incident helped me pick the subject of my practice.”

An image representing the plight of the cotton farmers who use pesticides on their fields (Photo: Aalok Soni )

The exhibition reflects these influences. On display are ten mix media drawings (charcoal, acrylic and pastel) and a life-sized sculpture; the latter is of a mine manager pointing to a drawing. It depicts the manager’s dream of discovering gold and diamonds at a site, at which the workers dig away to discover the mine.

In another scene, Pachpute shows people hanging in space and a man touching the cracks on the drought-ridden farms. It takes reference from Italian painter Michelangelo Caravaggio’s painting — Doubting Thomas — where Thomas touches Jesus’s wounds to check if he was dead or alive. “Similarly, the man (read government) in the drawing checks whether the crisis of the cotton farmers is real or not,” says Pachpute.

The alternative

On a happier note, one work shows a group of people holding a piece of land, acknowledging the success of co-operative farming. In the last of the sequence, Pachpute depicts the practice of converting used mining lands, depleted of all wealth into an amphitheatre or a museum in Germany. “In India, these lands are abandoned. We should adopt the practice of converting these into something meaningful,” he says.

Pachpute travelled across the country and to Brazil, Turkey, Australia and the UK on scholarships and residencies, requesting visits to mines there. “I have been to gold and iron mines in India and abroad over the past six years, to gain experience and an international perspective for my practice,” he says.

Know your artist

Prabhakar Pachpute earned his Bachelor’s in Fine Arts (sculpture) from Indira Kala Sangit Vishwavidyalaya, Khairaghar, in 2009. Two years later, he got a Master’s in Fine Arts (sculpture) from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaj Sayajirao University, Baroda.

In 2010, he was awarded the Professor Mahendra Pandya Foundation Award, in Baroda. He held his first solo exhibition — Canary in a Coal Mine — at the Clark House Initiative in 2012.

Don’t miss

No, it wasn’t the locust cloud is on display from April 11 to May 15, 10.30am to 6pm
At : National Gallery of Modern Art, MG Road, Fort
CALL: 2288 1969
ENTRY: Rs 10

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