Meet me among trees

At “Vriksha”, trees embrace us with their all-encompassing loving arms

The wide-range environmental concern by citizen groups on trees reflects in a timely exhibition “Vriksha”, curated by Uma Nair at the India International Centre. The exhibit displays a wide range of visual art genres – installations, ceramics, photographs, and a variety of categories of paintings. The exhibit can be perceived in three parts – A sense of hope and grandeur expressed through the mythical aspect of trees. A sense of hopelessness generated from the present environmental crises of disappearing trees; and finally amidst these two is the subliminal level of a dream world. However, one needs to navigate to re-configure these themes in the display.

The tree as a symbol has since ancient times engaged the Indian mind. It appears as a socio-economic arena of forests in myths and as part of medicinal and sacred geographies. It is a motif of compassion, a selfless giver, a provider, and a nurturer. The display opens with the invitation having the painting of the Kaplvriksha (mythical wish-fulfilling tree) by Arpitha Reddy. Portrayed as a tree of life, with aerial roots hanging and other roots encircling a water pool with lotus flowers is inspired by a tale of loss and gain. “There is a Banyan tree in my ancestral village. When selling the land, our family did not realise the tree which was part of our collective memory and identity, went to the buyer. We bought back the tree and the land under,” says Reddy. The veins of roots and branches of the golden tree recreate the evocative all-encompassing loving arms.

The theme of nurturing life gets elaborated in a work by Padma Shri awardee and Gond painter Bhajju Shyam. Adwaita Shyam’s tree incorporates the life of the forest and beyond. His tree comes out of the frame like the “Virat Roop” (The divine form of Vishnu representing the macrocosm of the living universe). The sophisticated Gond painting is projected technically as outer and inner line work conveying a sense of rhythmic movement which is enhanced by the rekhaj (small lines) and dots (bindu).

The mythical world expands with the imaginative work titled “Parijat” by Vishal Joshi “I am working with the form of spirals, and am employed in creating a new language. My tree Parijat, like a golden, tree with copper leaves and fragrant beautiful flowers is a symbol of hope and beauty. In the trunk of the tree, the spiral forms are emerging as textures of a new language of expression and hope. ”

From some of the artworks communicating the traditional wisdom and recurring theme of Man in Nature rather than Man in the domination of Nature; there are works in the exhibit that speak of desolation, and the theme of the sixth extinction. This is illustrated in hues of dust-storm colours striking out in Arpana Caur’s poignant depiction of a human figure emerging from a group of modern high rising buildings. The floating figure is a dominant entity and crushing natural resources and fuelled by pollution. The existential theme of the disturbed environment emerges from the brilliant photograph by Dhiraj Paul. The image is of the blurred Taj Mahal juxtaposed by a shrinking dying naked tree in the waters of the polluted Jamuna.

Between the two extremes, the surrealist painting by Aji V.N of tempered forests provides a breath of relief. The unconscious mind creates a space to integrate a rational of existence presented in dreams and imagined the reality of hope. An image which is captured in the surrealist poem “Dark Poet” by Antonin Artaud – “Embittered poet, life seethes, and life burns. The Sky re-absorbs itself in the rains… The pen begins to scratch at the heart of life.”

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