Kolkata-based artist Jayashree Chakravarty’s exhibition at Akar Prakar was a cocoon of sorts where you felt one with nature even inside the premise of an art gallery. Titled A Wired Ecology, Chakravarty’s works were on display at the gallery in Delhi from January 28 to February 22, 2019.
While it seemed impossible and even unnecessary to distinguish the 12 works from each other, there are stories hidden and embedded deep between the layers of each of the works on display.
In the modern day scenario of increasing urbanisation across the globe and an excessive focus on economic growth in lieu of ecological sustainability, Chakravarty’s practice is a silent cry for co-existence.
When questioned about the centrality of the deterioration of Kolkata’s Salt Lake to her work, a place she has lived in since 1982, the artist explained, “Nature is part of my work. I have been living in Kolkata since 1982. At that time, we moved to Salt Lake and it was around the same time I started thinking about nature. However, it was in 2003, when my interest became more serious, even more so around 2006. I was interested in my neighbours, concerns like who is enjoying whose house, created by whom, and this house that I live in, who created it, who all enjoyed it and who is living in it since then. My house is no more like it once was. When we moved here, there were hardly any houses or roads in the area. The area was full of long grasses and water-borne creatures. Historically, this whole area was a water body. At one point, when I came to live here, there were snakes and snails and water-borne animals that used to roam around freely. Now all creatures are moving away, disappearing. The grasses have also disappeared. Houses have come up instead. Earlier, this was an area for middle-class people. However, over time they sold their houses to rich people and so the place has changed socio-economically over time.”
Ruminating about the changes around the place she now calls home and how the latter has inspired her practice, she added, “It all came from a sense of loss - loss of air, sunlight, greenery. I started missing the greenery. Now the area is all congested, dusty and filled with smoke. The leaves are also dusty and not so green anymore. People have started chopping off the trees. The medicinal plants are considered weeds and thrown away. It is sad for the eyes; now there is nothing to see except concrete and rocks. That is the new image of the nature around us. Everything now is in a cage. I go inside that cage to see the open sky.”
The angst of watching her home and the vicinity transform from a green marshland into a cemented neighbourhood catalysed a change in Chakravarty’s practice that organically moved towards the creation of an immersive style of paper works around 2014. Almost as a reflex action to counter the ecological loss she witnessed, Chakravarty started to collect remnants of nature - mud, seeds, weeds, insects, twigs, shells, leaves, dry flowers, and medicinal plants – elements that formed a part and parcel of her past and present. For Chakravarty, this process of collection was her effort towards saving nature, or at least saving parts of it that she valued. What emerged were deeply layered works infused with organic details. She highlighted, “People threw away weeds on the street. They were gradually disappearing. From there, I realised that a lot of things around me are ending. I wanted to save them. I, therefore, started picking up weeds, many times medicinal plants, thrown on the street and pasting them on my work. The idea of what we are losing around us continuously nudged me. Therefore, I started working in this way. I began using grasses and seeds little by little with the paper I was making. I found this process to be so inviting as paper can be used for so many different things.”
Inclined towards using natural materials, Chakravarty subsequently adds other elements like tea stains, coffee dust, and acrylic and oil paints to create works in several layers. She explained, “The first layer is a paper that you can’t even see. Subsequently, I usually add four to five layers of paper which can go up to 25 layers (of) working on both sides of the paper. I also colour it, cover it with paper and then repeat this process. Unless the result is achieved, I work.”
The meticulous detailing and layering, however, is made visible through the use of light installed behind each work. The idea behind this technique was inspired by Chakravarty’s upbringing in a family of doctors where she was exposed to microscopes. Just like in the device, light is cast from behind the object on view to highlight the details, the same principle is emblematic of Jayashree’s works. For the viewer, then, it feels like a walk through a sun-lit forest in its untampered glory.
It is within the many layers of her works, that Chakravarty un-layers the broken link between nature and nurture. The juxtaposition between the ecological state that inspires her and the final rendition that recreates an image of nature as it once was leaves one unsettled, yearning for a world which hopefully isn’t unwired from the latter aesthetic for the generations that follow.