Published: 18th January 2021
How Gowri MN's love for sandcastles helped her set up the Mysore Sand Sculpture Museum
Gowri M N, who is said to be the only professional woman sand art sculptor in India speaks about her journey in sand art and Mysore Sand Sculpture Museum that attracts many tourists
Sandcastles form some of the best memories for many of us. A fun day out at the beach with family, playing with our bucket and shovel and etching our names in the sand just to watch the water wash it away. Gowri MN's childhood was just like this too. But she didn't stop when she got older, in fact, she went ahead and made it her passion and profession. This not only made her famous across India but she also went on to set up the Mysore Sand Sculpture Museum in the heritage city. But before sand sculptures came clay sculptures.
Gowri recalls, "Since childhood, I was always into art and wanted to make a career of it. But my father, who is a businessman and runs a factory, would tell me that art is not an actual source of income. It was ingrained that we must pursue a professional course and get a job. However, the love for art in me had not died. Though I went on to pursue a Diploma in Machine Tool Technology, I still continued to make sculptures with clay, something I thoroughly enjoyed. I would look for this unique artform on the internet and over time, it increased. While I designed something of my own, I watched what other artists around the world were experimenting with. That's when I came across sand sculpture art."
When art conquers all
Despite the fact that Gowri's goal of pursuing art had not changed even a bit, she had to follow her father's words. After her diploma, she went to pursue her Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering in Mysuru. But as the days went by, she found it difficult to study subjects that were not of her interest. She explains, "After two years of trying hard to settle down with the engineering course, I decided to quit. One day, I went up to my father and told him that my interest is in art and not engineering. I was able to convince my father this time and pursued my Bachelor's in Fine Arts, followed by a Master's in Sculpture from Karnataka State Open University."
Though Gowri didn't learn sand sculpture art professionally, she attended the international sand art festival organised in Odisha where she observed artists using various techniques. She says, "I too started experimenting with smaller structures and learnt a lot through pictures and videos on the internet, and people started loving what I was doing. In my experience, sand art is not taught formally, you learn it when you start making the structures yourself. Each structure is different and you get to learn lessons while building each of them."
Soon, Gowri's sand art became the talk of the town. The message spread. The state government would invite her during flower shows in Mysuru as well as Bengaluru. The 32-year-old artist says, "I have designed sculptures on themes like Save the Girl Child, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, Dashavatara of Vishnu and so on. So far, I have visited fifty different places across India and exhibited my sand art. For past two years, I have been exhibiting my sand art at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Dubai, a festival of culture and heritage at Al Janadriyah in Saudi Arabia and other expos."
A museum in the heritage city
So why set up a sand art museum in Mysuru when she is exhibiting across India and Middle Eastern countries? To this, she says, "I never thought of starting a museum to display my sand sculpture art earlier. It was during one of the exhibitions in another city when someone came to me and told me that I should set up something permanent in sand art for people to watch. Because at every exhibition, the sand art is demolished after a few days. That's when I decided to set up the museum in 2012. "
Since Gowri was born and brought up in Mysuru, she decided to set up her museum in the same city. The first step she and her father took was to approach the state government to allocate some permanent land. "As usual, there were many rules in place if the government had to allocate land to us for a museum. So, we decided to rent some land on the way to Chamundi Hills and started the museum there. It consists of 150 structures and they are based on different themes - Goddess Chamundeshwari, the Dasara procession, ancient civilisations including the famous Egyptian civilisation, Save Wildlife and Mother Earth, the Gitopadesha, Disneyland and much more. From children to adults and senior citizens, everybody will love these themes. These 150 structures are huge and they are created from 115 lorry loads of sand," explains Gowri.
While it is a treat to our eyes to watch these intricate works of art on sand, it is challenging to maintain without any damage throughout the year. Gowri says, "The sand doesn't remain the same throughout the year. During winter and monsoons, the sand becomes moist and structures seem to collapse. Also, wasps are attracted to sand; they enter the sand and make huge holes. In such cases, I have to redo the structures. Then, of course, people touch the sculptures without knowing how delicate they are. So, it takes a lot of patience and time to create (and recreate) these sand sculptures."
The woes of a pandemic
Until March, the footfall to the museum was good. But after the lockdown was announced, it grew tough for Gowri. She explains, "Even after the lockdown had been lifted, with the fear of coming in contact with the Coronavirus, people had stopped coming and the footfall had reduced in large numbers. It's made it a bit tough for me financially. But since the past few days, the numbers have slowly started averaging out. Though there are not too many people visiting, a decent number of people come to see my art."
With fewer sand sculptors in India, Gowri wants to spread the knowledge of the art among youngsters and children. "I have decided to conduct workshops on sand sculpture art in the museum itself for kids on the weekends. I can give them practical lessons by showcasing my artwork as well as hands-on experience by teaching them to build an art piece of their own using sand," she concludes.