"I am using art as my medium to add to a narrative that is pertinent to the times we are living in,” says Delhi-based PaperChirrups founder Niharika Rajput, who specialises in creating handcrafted paper sculptures of wildlife, especially birds. Art, in these times of fast-degrading natural habitats, climate change and declining wildlife population, “acts as a reminder of what’s out there and needs to be protected”, she says. “Living in the Anthropocene age, I aim to restore, protect and conserve all endangered wildlife through art.”
Truth be told, while the impact of art on conservation remains hazy—can pretty pictures of fish really prevent oceans being clogged with plastic?—it does manage to reach a diverse set of people, crossing boundaries of culture and language more easily than words. And when it moves to social media, its reach is amplified.
Ask Bengaluru-based wildlife scientist and artist Arjun Srivathsa, whose Instagram account is filled with line drawings of bears, tigers, elephants, even a pangolin, often with a short explanation for each post. Srivathsa is convinced it’s important to create content that will stand out, elicit interest and convey a crucial piece of information on conservation. Given the level of ecological illiteracy in India, he thinks “art (more specifically, cartoons) can be an innovative approach to accomplish this, even if through baby steps”.
As part of this special issue to mark World Environment Day, Lounge talks to three young artists who use their creativity and social media accounts to drive a conservation narrative in India.
ARJUN SRIVATHSA, 33
INSPIRE campus fellow, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru
During his formative years as a scientist, Bengaluru-based Srivathsa, a fellow of the department of science and technology’s innovation in science pursuit for inspired research (INSPIRE) programme, realised that while Indian wildlife researchers were making fascinating discoveries, society remained largely unaware of them. “By and large, scientists pigeonhole themselves into a certain way of communicating with each other. The language is laden with niche jargon and we inadvertently start believing that it’s the best way to articulate our thoughts and ideas,” he says.
That is where his skills as an artist came in—these helped him talk about wildlife science with a larger audience, says Srivathsa, who has collaborated with conservation organisations to get his cartoons and illustrated storyboards out there. They have been translated into regional languages, used in fund-raising for research, nature education in villages around forests, leveraged for communicating best practices to reduce human-wildlife conflict, helped to promote sustainable harvest of fisheries and used as outreach material in forest department visitor centres.
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Srivathsa, a self-taught artist, has been one for as long as he can remember. “My artwork has always been dominated by things inspired by nature and wildlife,” he says, admitting that he always carries a small sketchbook and a pencil during fieldwork. “I find it cathartic to end a tiring day in the field by doodling the interesting, weird, funny, fascinating things I have seen that day. I have also used the same doodling style to make comic strips, translating scientific papers into easy-to-grasp, funny storyboards,” he adds.
Seven years ago, the Bengaluru-based wildlife scientist, a PhD in interdisciplinary ecology from the University of Florida, US, and an expert in the conservation ecology of carnivores began experimenting with digital art, “mostly because of how easy I found the medium to be”. In this age of information excess and long hours spent trawling social media, smartphone technology and the internet have immense reach, even in rural India, he notes. “I look forward to seeing more innovative and quirky ways of doing this (creating art)... maybe through Instagram reels and such. There’s always scope to make things more interesting!”
NIHARIKA RAJPUT, 30
Wildlife and conservation artist, National Geographic explorer, and founder, PaperChirrups
As a child, Rajput remembers being mesmerised by nature, spending long hours collecting fireflies or watching spiders weave intricate webs. “The vibrant colours and construct of these insects and flowers always intrigued me,” says Rajput, whose father’s defence background meant they travelled to many far-flung places. “It gave me endless opportunities to experience a wide spectrum of flora and fauna,” says Rajput, who specialises in handcrafted, intricate and realistic paper sculptures of wildlife. “I always loved building three-dimensional objects,” says Rajput, who started her journey as an artist in 2013, as an intern at the People Tree shop in Delhi. She began building abstract, nature-inspired sculptures using materials such as wire, mesh, bamboo, jute and clay. By 2015, she was realistically replicating birds, experimenting with other materials before she decided paper was her medium. On why she settled on paper, the self-confessed ornithophile explains that it is the best medium to realistically replicate the texture of the plumage on the bird’s body. She aims for hyperrealism, something that can fool the eye. “Nature has always been my muse. I always look to it for the most sophisticated, intricately designed organisms,” says Rajput, who works with wildlife organisations, forest departments and interior designers to create realistic paper sculptures of birds and conducts conservation workshops and talks.
DEEPIKA KARANTH, 25
Illustrator, birdwatcher and wildlife photographer
Deepika Karanth’s Instagram profile contains a mix of candid photographs and paintings of wildlife—birds, butterflies, reptiles and amphibians. The software engineer from Karnataka’s Chikkamagaluru district always had an interest in drawing; her love for birds got her into wildlife illustration, she says. “I started art as a hobby,” says Karanth, who uses colour pencils, gel pens and the Procreate app to create art using the stippling technique.
Also read: How art helps us talk about air pollution
The self-taught artist says that observing other artists on social media, YouTube tutorials and online courses have helped her hone her skills. “I practise after work and during weekends,” says Karanth, who especially enjoys the process of creating wildlife art. Observing an animal in its habitat has always inspired her to draw it, helping her learn about that particular species, she says. “Moreover, with the current status of wildlife, and their habitats being neglected and destroyed, it makes sense to talk about wildlife wherever possible, so I use social media, especially Instagram, to share/talk about wildlife,” she adds.
Recently, she conducted an online class in drawing. “I chose the subject as drawing birds and was able to talk and introduce them to birds through my art,” she says, adding that her students ended up searching and sending artworks of other birds to her after the session. “It was great to see,” she says. “Awareness to conserve can be done through many different mediums, in which art is one of the main mediums to gain attention. My interest is to showcase biodiversity through art.”