India’s illustrators add colour to traditional maps with their artwork

“The Northern border of Andhra Pradesh and the Southern border of Odisha are ecologically similar — the landscapes, the wildlife, everything,” says illustrator Sudarshan Shaw, pointing out — over a phone call from Bhubaneshwar — how the possibility of such similarities doesn’t occur to most of us when we think of these States as two separate entities. Sudarshan dreams of drawing a map of India some day, where the borders are based on Nature, and not States.

A similar vision was realised by Rohan Chakravarty back in 2017 in the form of a Wild Atlas commissioned by WWF India, and earlier in 2015 as his self-funded project: The Wildlife Map of India. The latter marks out 46 biodiversity hotspots of the country, as well as over 120 animals, including ones considered synonymous with certain States — like a lion-tailed macaque perched regally in Kerala, and a cheery whale shark swimming off the coast of Gujarat.

India’s illustrators add colour to traditional maps with their artwork

Rohan, who publishes his art under the popular monicker Green Humour, is perhaps among the first in the country to have brought wildlife illustrations into the world of maps. His maiden such project was in the year 2013, in collaboration with wildlife biologist Nandini Velho. It was a map of Pakke Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh, complete with depictions of not only key species, but also of the river system, the anti-poaching camps, tribal villages and tribal life. The latter is an important aspect of such maps, says Rohan, adding that it is important to depict “how exactly tribes and communities interact with both wildlife and natural resources.”

Part of a whole

This is a point that Sudarshan emphasises as well: “I can’t go to see wildlife alone, without also noticing the culture, the tribes, the landscapes.” This subliminal, cohesive picture is something he wishes would stay in the minds of all travellers and map-readers. To that end, the NIFT Delhi graduate has taken his works — “I consider them artworks, not maps” — a step ahead, by drawing each in the art form that is inherent to that region. So his Wildlife Map of Odisha has all the ecological details, from hornbills atop their beloved fig trees to Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings going back to sea, etched out in the Pattachitra art form. “The silhouettes are that of Pattachitra; I have given some personal touches to make them more recognisable and universal,” he says. Similarly, in his next project — Biodiversity Map of Andhra Pradesh commissioned by the State’s Forest Department — every creature, pattern and detail is reflective of “the folk art of Srikalahasti Kalamkaari”.

India’s illustrators add colour to traditional maps with their artwork

Additions like these are what make wildlife maps more effective. As illustrator Ashvini Menon puts it, a heavy dose of information alone is not enough to get the message across. “A map is already a complex picture. Enough usage of colour can build interest, especially among children,” she says, ruing the intimidating “iron ore and bauxite maps we were taught in school,” though she acknowledges that they were definitely loaded with data. Having designed the front cover of Bombay Natural History Society’s Bird Atlas in 2018, Ashvini is currently working with a conservation NGO to design vibrant wildlife maps for children.

Eye of the beholder

Over the years, Rohan has created nearly two dozen such maps, commissioned by NGOs, Government departments and international institutions, to highlight the local biodiversity of mountains, forest reserves and even urban areas. His projects this year have included urban biodiversity maps of Mumbai, Gangtok and his hometown Nagpur, as well as a separate map highlighting Maharashtra’s coastal biodiversity alone. Some of them are in the form of murals, others are billboards, and almost all of them are online, but what matters is what form they are presented in to their target audience.

The format of these maps are pre-decided to make the best of the amount of detailing that goes into them. Says Rohan, “For most of the forest department projects, the maps were made to be put up at interpretation centres and museums.” These are generally large, mounted works that tourists can stand and observe in detail. Besides these, there was also an interactive game designed for WWF India’s education portal ‘One Planet Academy’, based on Rohan’s 2017 Wildlife Atlas.

India’s illustrators add colour to traditional maps with their artwork

Another interactive web page is in the works, and will hopefully draw more people in to the conversation about conservation.

As Ashvini puts it, “The gap between serious content and the non-scientific community has to be bridged. What is the point of communicating among people who already know?”

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Printable version | Sep 28, 2021 10:41:12 AM |

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