Every year, thousands of Olive Ridley and Kemp Ridley turtles congregate on a few select beaches in the world to begin a synchronised, mass nesting – a phenomenon called arribada, Spanish for arrival. In India, this takes place in March on the shoreline of the beaches of Gahirmatha and Rushikulya in Odisha. The first diorama of Arribada – an online exhibition of turtle artefacts collected over the years by the filmmaker Aradhana Seth, ecologist and educationist Kartik Shanker and programme director of WWF India, Sejal Worah – captures this story. Titled When the turtles come marching in, it consists of a number of turtle statuettes made of various materials, including metal, terracotta, glass, ceramic, fabric, wood, and papier mâché arranged together on a wooden frame.
When the turtles come marching in is one of several dioramas of the exhibition; others represent more stages of an Olive Ridley turtle's life cycle. According to the Arribada website, these dioramas are inspired by the concept of Wunderkammer or cabinet of curiosities. "We put bring together stories from history, biology, culture, conservation and people associated with sea turtles in India and use artefacts to tell the stories and connections between them," it states. Some of these stories include the process of egg-laying and temperature-based sex determination, the race for survival and the lost years in an open ocean, natal homing, or the female's return back to the beach where she was herself hatched; turtle diets, threats and myths.
The idea of having an exhibition of turtle artefacts first started over casual conversations, says Shanker, founding trustee of the Dakshin Foundation, a Bengaluru-headquartered not-for-profit, charitable, non-governmental organisation that works on environmental sustainability and social justice. Shanker, who collects turtle artefacts and has built a diverse collection over the years, discovered that both Seth and Worah shared this obsession. "We would casually talk about getting together and having an exhibition," he says. "But it never really materialised."
Then, in early 2018 the WWF conducted a frog exhibition in Delhi. “Sejal and I talked, and we thought it would be nice for WWF and Dakshin to collaborate and do this travelling turtle exhibition,” recalls Shanker. So in 2019, they put together this exhibition. “Aradhana’s art direction helped in come to life,” he says, adding that they opened in Delhi in July 2019. Six months later, they moved to Goa, opening there on January 30, 2020. “The idea was to move it to Goa and then Bangalore,” he says. “Then covid happened.”
They waited for a bit, hoping things would get better. It didn’t, so they decided to put a stopper to the Goa leg of the exhibition and cancel the Bengalore one too. “A lot of the live events we had planned didn’t happen,” says Muralidharan Manoharakrishnan, Field Director, Dakshin, who was instrumental in turning the physical exhibition into an online one. He adds that there was already a plan to create an online platform to make sure this lived longer than the actual exhibition. So they decided to go ahead with it, working closely with the person who had curated the exhibition in Goa.
The website went live on June 20, 2021, and the team continued to work on finetuning it. “We just completed a bunch of website testing to make it more accessible and will be launching it more formally again soon,” says Manoharakrishnan. They are especially excited about their contributions section, a page that allows the audience to interact with the page and share pictures of their own artefacts that can help deepen the sea turtle story. Shanker adds that they hope to have host more exhibits on this website at some point. “Right now, however, this exhibition is the centrepiece, and the whole website is devoted to it," he says.
The exhibition can be viewed at https://arribada.in/
Also read: Why you shouldn't keep a turtle as a pet