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Posted at: Jul 7, 2019, 12:05 AM; last updated: Jul 7, 2019, 12:05 AM (IST)

What the trees say

This exhibition celebrates the eternal power of trees

Amit Sengupta

We must listen to trees, said German philosopher and novelist Hermann Hesse. Rishi Aurobindo said that even trees, leaves, flowers, petals and bark have a language; you can hear it but you can’t understand it; you have to listen to the leaves to hear their language. 

Mahashweta Devi once told this reporter that she is not an intellectual. Sagar Sabar, from the Sabar tribe, is an intellectual. How and why? Because he lives on the trees, inside the deep of the forests, in the heart of nature. He can hear and understand the language of trees and forests, she said. That is why he is the only truest organic intellectual.

An exhibition where trees are the medium and the message in a realm of organised destruction of forests all over the world will be held at the art gallery in India International Centre, Delhi, from July 2-12. The show will feature some of the finest and legendary names in Indian arts and culture, in the world of painting and photography, among other areas of specialised art. 

Neeraj Goswami’s Tree of Life created this summer in fertile tones is about splendour. Vipul Kumar’s five-feet stoneware work goes back to mythological narratives. Great photographer S Paul’s two images from 2010 showcase a majestic tree canopy, like a cosmic umbrella, which shelters, protects and cools the earth. Photographer Soham Gupta, who has just returned from the Venice Biennale, has created a special image as an ode to the city of joy — Kolkata.

Photographer Jyoti Bhatt’s ideation for Kalpavriksha is in the image of a divine, magical, mythical using 10 intaglio prints. His vast range of documentation of rural India and portraits of faces in villages complements this moment of revelation. Himmat Shah complements Bhatt with the abstract dynamics of trees. Painter Arpana Caur’s Prayer for Trees (2008) is like a call for action in an era of mass deforestation and ravaging of nature.

Aji VN paints surreal trees. Abstract artists Saba Hasan and Yogendra Tripathi create stunning images. Saba creates a monochrome while Tripathi’s celebrates a small tree from the 1990s. Arpitha Reddy creates a Kalpavriksha born of miniature traditions while Sonia Sareen has made a cold ceramic and gold autumnal scene in All That Glitters.

The originality of the show is showcased by three tribal Gond artists who narrate their ancient stories with the images and tales of trees and creatures, living in peaceful coexistence, in what was an everlasting and infinite forest once upon a time, and which still lives in their memories and folk traditions. Bajju Shyam’s pen and ink drawing of 2017 and another work from art critic Uma Nair’s private collection echo the value of trees and the green canvas. Venkat Shyam’s Van Devi is a fluorescent forest replete with tales and in praise of the goddess of forests, while Japani Shyam’s Deer with Antlers grow into fervent branches, like a wild celebration of flora and fauna in original and pristine bio-diversity.

Curator Uma Nair says: “The show seeks to affirm that the nation-state’s welfare depends on healing the broken relationship between an economy and a broken ecology. A tree is much more than an economic resource. A tree is a symbol of the future of both man and nature… Botanic subjects, poetic inspiration, natural emblems of poise and perfection — Vriksha is an exhibition that speaks of trees in the natural and human worlds. This exhibition of about 30 artists celebrates the eternal power of trees.”

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