At the Ojas Art Gallery, in Delhi, a work by artist Gopa Trivedi catches the eye. She has used gold and graphite on wasli to create a portrait of a broken planet. In the first few images, one can see a lush golden landscape, with a bird looking for food on the ground. However, in the subsequent visuals, the land degenerates dramatically, with black cracks eating away the gold. Trivedi is one of the 19 contemporary and indigenous artists to have responded to the theme of climate crisis as part of the exhibition, ‘Echoes of the Land: Art Bears Witness to a Changing Planet’. Organised by the Sarmaya Arts Foundation in collaboration with Ojas Art Gallery, the show features more than 24 works of art that depict humankind’s fragile connection with Earth.
‘Echoes of the Land’ presses on the fact that the climate crisis is no longer a threat of the future but is one of the most critical challenges of the present times. According to Paul Abraham, founder of the Mumbai-based Sarmaya Arts Foundation, it’s important to reflect on ways to amplify stories of this fraught relationship. “Sarmaya’s intention has always been to use our collection as a catalyst to create spaces for conversations, and to address issues that impact us collectively. In this exhibition, with the curation of multiple perspectives of both indigenous and contemporary artists, we witness an observation of nature through an almost worshipful gaze. There is a personal recording of the underlying impact of intervention and a persistent hope in renewal and regeneration,” says Abraham, who is bringing Sarmaya’s art collection to the capital for the first time.
One can see works by the likes of Krishanand Jha, who pays a tribute to the ceaseless toil of a farmer’s day by recording each activity in the precise lines of Madhubani’s kachni style. There is an evocative work by KP Pradeepkumar, titled ‘The River Flows in Me’. At first, the image seems like that of a serene countryside, with a river flowing from the mountains through the trees. But when you look closer, you realise that the river in spate has uncoiled its fury in the valley, uprooting trees as it lashes through the landscape. Mayur and Tushar Vayeda’s painting, Kansari, named for the goddess who sows the seeds that populate the earth with plants, animals and people, urges us to renew a relationship of respect and gratitude.
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As one walks through the exhibition, it seems as if the various works have entered into dialogues with one another. There are interesting threads and connections that run through the art on display. For instance, both Soghra Khurasani and Trivedi offer landscapes for rewilding and rejuvenation. According to the Sarmaya Arts Foundation’s curatorial team, the show blurs the distinction between indigenous and contemporary art, and their exploration of natural and cultural ecologies. For example, while Khurasani practises printmaking, Trivedi explores the contemporary miniature form. But both artists, in this exhibition, explore an intimate relationship with ecology and call out to our collective apathy towards it.
“To expand on how deep the impact of our environmental neglect is, we have included artists who feel affected by this. An example is Chandan Bez Baruah artwork, which depicts the road, through the jungles of Assam, as a detestable representation of human intervention. On the other hand, the Mata ni Pachedi work by Sumit Chitara is an imaginative depiction of a clear, abundant Sabarmati flowing through the centre of Ahmedabad. Through various mediums and different geographical contexts, these pieces explore what was and what will never be,” states the team.
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‘Echoes of the Land’ is the second in Sarmaya’s series of collaborations with leading art galleries. The last one was held in 2021 with Tarq, Mumbai. This is a significant association as it is rare to see museums and art galleries come together to show collections. Sarmaya and Ojas share a long-standing relationship. “Some of the artworks featured in the exhibition are by artists represented by Ojas. Collaborating with the gallery extends the relationship beyond a transactional one. We create a space together for reflection and conversations around contemporary issues as well as supporting and featuring artists, making their works accessible,” says Abraham.
‘Echoes of the Land’ is on display at Ojas Art Gallery, 1AQ, Mehrauli, New Delhi, between 3-20 November. The gallery is closed on Monday