It is the era of the anthropocene but there is little reason to cheer, for the human age has brought with it pollution, deforestation, climate change and other misdeeds that have disrupted the delicate balance on earth.
A new eco-art show — ‘Who will speak: Me? You? Or Nobody?’ — curated by Shubhani Sharma for Chennai’s Apparao Galleries attempts to critique our deeply capitalist approach towards climate change and other ecological issues through the works of a set of Indian artists. “The artworks featured in this exhibition serve as an illustration of how artists have attempted to examine the relationship between humans and nature,” says Sharma.
Coming at the fag end of the year, the exhibition aims to inspire the artists and viewers to spare a thought for the environment and act in a meaningful way to bring about change in the new year, the curator adds. The artists featured are Anirudh Singh Shaktawat, Atul Bhalla, Arunkumar H.G., Chinmoyi Patel, Ishan Tankha, Manjot Kaur, Meera George, Ravi Agarwal and Sonia Mehra Chawla.
Art and activism
Working with reclaimed wood, sculptor Arunkumar deliberates on how to employ the medium itself to talk to the viewer. “A piece of log can tell its own story of the forest where it came from,” he says, using black floor-paint for rendering the artwork because it is symbolic of the carbon waste that is a result of burning wood.
Painter Meera George too looks at the effect of greenhouse gases, bleached coral reefs, and melting ice caps in her mixed-media artworks.
Straddling the space between art and activism, photographer Ravi Agarwal uses images to examine what the sea means to the fisherfolk. “We always have a tendency to fix an image via a photograph, but the sea is not static, which is why I have experimented with the photos to capture that sense of movement,” he says. “It is the first time the sea drew me in to examine it closely. It was because of fishermen and their relation to it.”
Agarwal also uses a NASA image to create ‘Sea of Mars’, a speculative work that talks of ecological change, continuity and contemporary life.
Fisherfolk of Chennai
Interestingly, conceptual artist Atul Bhalla too trains his eyes on the sea, and Chennai’s fisherfolk, as being possibly the ‘original inhabitants’ of the coastline, who, during British rule, were part of the ‘cleansing’ of the seafront for the boulevard at Marina beach. “My ‘Notes from Kasimedu’ is an effort to reveal and question how we try to ‘hide’ history,” he says. “They bear the brunt of the changing nature of the sea, from its rising levels to the daily grind.”
Ishan Tankha’s series draws attention to the ‘Jal Satyagraha’ in Madhya Pradesh, where people squatted in the water for days to protest the government appropriating their land. Their demands were simple — fair and adequate compensation for having to uproot themselves from their land and livelihood. “I shot these images back in 2013 but they are still relevant because things have not changed and the approach to big hydro-power projects are the same,” says Tankha, who is both a photo-journalist and an artist.
With the concept of eco-art gaining acceptance globally, the idea is to use the platform “to advance ecological thought and raise awareness of the issues that all of humanity is facing because of anthropogenic activities,” says curator Sharma. “It is more than just the buying and selling of art. It is important that galleries and museums embrace and host more activities pertaining to ecology. This will encourage dialogue and a greater citizen involvement in protecting nature.”
‘Who will speak: Me? You? Or Nobody?’ is on view at Apparao Galleries, Chennai, till November 30, 2022.
The writer is a critic-curator by day, and a creative writer and visual artist by night.