Manveer Singh Gautam’s journey as the grant winner of METIS – the artist Desee art represents

It is incredible how much of an impact a 15ft installation can have. A mere 15ft on a massive coast of Odisha and yet a whole 15ft structure of 250 turtles, made of hard to recycle plastic; it is a paradox in itself. On a beautifully clear afternoon on Puri Beach, Manveer’s installation shone brighter than the Sea itself. It was his final installation- the conclusion to a beautiful journey. The Metis initiative on plastics and Indo-pacific Ocean 2021 at Utsha Foundation, in collaboration with AFD’s grant winner, was ManveerSingh Gautam also known as Plasticvalla. We are proud to announce that he has done justice as being the grant winner of this initiative.

Manveer’s work has always been inspired by nature and is made for nature. His traditional oil and acrylic strokes translated into the plastic layers with carefully curated colours. In his journey of changing his medium, he started using plastic due to its impact on the very nature that he was trying to depict. What was after all the point of painting the Beaty of nature when it was being constantly tainted with these unnatural man-made components? Since then, Manveer has been able to re-use nearly 350Kgs of plastics through his endeavours. He also collected the plastic for his installation through the various ‘Habit Changer’ boxes that he had set up throughout Bhubaneswar city. Considering it his responsibility as an eco-artist, he has always aspired to create awareness amongst people regarding the plastic that they use, unknowingly. Simple packaging materials like juice tetra packs or even milk packets are hard to recycle. Having collected each of these pieces, going through the arduous process of cleaning every single one of them and then segregating them in their respective colour sections is the long process that happens for each of these artworks. Into each piece of plastic that goes into his artworks, is invested with a lot of love and care. That is how piece by piece Plasticvalla creates larger than life installations. Manveer was among the 26 applicants who had applied for the Metis initiative on plastics and the Indo-pacific Ocean 2021 grant. His extraordinary effort towards changing the larger mindset of the Indian context towards reused plastic-based art had perhaps gotten him this platform. Perhaps at the same time, it was the keen interest he takes as an individual towards this cause. All revolutions come from art and as a society, we are at a cusp of revolution wherein all kinds of plastic culture needs to be abandoned if we wish to inhabit this planet any further. People like Manveer bring this conscience into art from where these conversations can begin. Especially as such a large country, our plastic waste is just as huge- we need to reflect on these practices and like Manveer, see how an individual is capable of magnanimous actions such as this. The installation at the Puri beach was simply one manifestation of this thought. It was not so much an inspiration as it was a cause of concern. 

The Olive Ridley Turtles are not extinct, however, their conservation status is vulnerable. Manveer’s conversation with his friend and photographer Ashis Dhir informed him about Odisha’s significance in these turtles’ lives. The coast of Rushikulya Beach in Ganjam, Odisha is a mass nesting ground for these Olive Ridley Turtles. However, because all the beaches of Odisha are slowly becoming tourist hubs, Puri Beach being one of the largest ones, the plastic waste on the beaches are also significantly increasing. This waste stands in the way of the nesting grounds for these turtles who call this coast their home. Manveer also was inspired by Mr. Rabindranath Sahu who works as the secretary at the Rushikulya Sea Turtle Protection Committee, Ganjam. He has dedicated his entire life to this mission and cleans the beach himself sometimes too. Unsung heroes like this exist everywhere. Thus, Manveer’s work was made for the turtles with the very materials that bother them but also for these silent heroes. The days at Utsha Foundation were spent quickly in the spirit of work, creativity and joint efforts towards the final display. At the closing ceremony, lots of distinctive guests joined in. Amongst them were Mr Didier Talpain, the Consulate General of France, Kolkata, Jacky Amprou, the regional director of Agence Française de Development (AFD), Bruno Bosle, the Director of AFD in India, Fanny Ragot, the portfolio manager of AFD and Jagannath Panda, the founder of Utsha Foundation. All these people gathered together to celebrate the efforts of Manveer in his endeavour and a successful celebration of his works. Manveer’s time as the winner of this grant was a minuscule moment in the larger spectrum of works that he continues to do. He hopes that people will take up individual projects on their own and help him in the effort to change the Indian mindset which goes against artworks made with waste.

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