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Six-decade old journey of artist Prafulla Mohanti to London and his concept of ‘nothingness’

30/03/2021 at 6:59 PM

By Soumya Jyoti Pratihari

London was an alien city where I landed on 12th October 2019. Neither was I a rich dad’s lad nor was I on a scholarship, I was here to pursue my masters at Goldsmiths University of London. But where to stay ?

To God’s grace, I was suggested by a senior media professional to put up at Mr. Prafulla Kumar Mohanti’s residence for a few days before shifting to a suitable accommodation, an offer that introduced me to a world I never knew existed before. I landed up in London and arrived at a Victorian house in Sussex Street, Pimlico at 10:30 PM. I did not know the address was that famous. I had never been to a famous residential address before.Mr. Mohanti asked me to stay at the house like a family member. I felt at home.

The house is half a mile away from Buckingham Palace and is located near Victoria, Central London. The house has five floors. A massive basement that houses some of his artworks and collections, the ground floor that houses his studio, the first floor is where Mr. Mohanti lives.

I stayed with him for fifteen days and moved to a hostel accommodation after that. I would meet Mr. Mohanti over weekends. Some days I would spend hours with him, going through his paintings and listening to his stories.

He has been living in London for over six decades.Mr. Mohanti is an architect, an acclaimed writer,  a distinguished painter and a performance artist. He was born in 1936  in the village of Nanpur, Orissa. After completing his graduation from JJ School of Art, Bombay University,  he came to UK in 1960. In 1964 he completed his Diploma in Town Planning from the University Of Leeds. Before devoting himself to art and literature, he served as an architect-planner for the Greater London Council for several years.

Elaborating on the inspiration behind his works, he states: “My painting is rooted in my village culture, which is influenced by yoga and tantra. Art is a part of daily life. The villagers decorate the walls and floors of their mud houses with rice paste for festivals and ceremonies. The lotus is the main symbol. The lotus of my childhood has undergone changes through abstraction, from a circle to a point. Absolute abstraction makes it disappear. From this nothingness life begins again and becomes everything, the total universe.” 

He has published four books – My Village, My Life (Prager, 1974), Indian Village Tales (Davis-Poynter, 1975), Through Brown Eyes (Oxford University Press, 1985), and Changing Village, Changing Life (Penguin, 1990).   The artist is also known to voice his viewpoint on ethnic issues and concerns of immigrants which he vividly narrated in his book “ Through Brown Eyes”. Physically the world is fragmented, but he believes that spiritually, it can be one. 

He has had several exhibitions in many parts of the world including Europe, America, Japan and India. His paintings have been part of several international travelling exhibitions organized by National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi. His works are in the collection of The British Museum at London, Leeds City Art Gallery, Wakefield City Art Gallery, Brighton Art Gallery, University of Leeds, University of Sussex, University of Kent, Museum of Modern Art at Berkeley, Academy of Fine Arts at Kolkata, Air India, First National City Bank at Manila, Indian Council for Cultural Relations, the National Gallery of Modern Art and Lalit Kala Academy, all three in New Delhi and many other public and private collections.

The author with the famous international artist

An Odia artist, with a house in London full of works that span six decades, a responsible Overseas citizen of India, who has responsibly been running a village school that educates under privileged children of his native village Nanpur, a forerunner of the neo Tantra movement, and a pious soul, who has sheltered all who has knocked his door.

Mr. Mohanti described me once which sheds light on the pathetic situation of the cultural awareness of an Odia, so called “ Proud Odia”. A few years ago, the Odisha Society Of UK felicitated Mr. Mohanti , as an outstanding Odia for his contribution to art and culture. A day before the award ceremony Mr. Mohanti received a call from a representative of the society who after a polite introduction pooped the question “ Sir, what is your profession?”

About the Author:

Soumya Jyoti Pratihari is a recent postgraduate from Goldsmiths, University of London. Apart from being a communications professional, he is a filmmaker by passion and a writer at heart.


This is the personal opinion of the author. The views expressed in this write up have nothing to do with the www.prameyanews.com

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