by Devanshi ShahSep 02, 2021
Through the month of October, the social media pages of several musicians, artists and stand-up comedians, including Parekh + Singh, Blot!, José Covaco and Anu Menon, amongst many others, featured #biodiversitybythebay as part of an initiative led by Ministry of Mumbai’s Magic, a collective focussed on bringing about positive changes to Mumbai’s ecosystem, and DeadAnt, India’s first online publication and entertainment company dedicated to comedy. The 21-day programme featured virtual concerts and stand-up comedy gigs sandwiching an amazing roster of visual artists who released artworks through their individual social media between the 11th to the 19th.
“We asked 10 contemporary artists to contribute works, created exclusively for the Biodiversity by the Bay festival, in response to the urgent need to protect and preserve Mumbai’s biodiversity. We wanted to showcase diverse styles, and most of the artists we approached are also known for using their art for impact and awareness,” explains Ravina Rawal, the founder and editor-in-chief of DeadAnt. The visual artists who were asked to respond to the event included Priyanka Paul, Pia Alizé Hazarika, Shilo Shiv Suleman, Aaron Pinto, Smish Designs, Mehek Malhotra, Osheen Siva, Aaquib Wani, Shweta Malhotra and Vinu Joseph. “The idea was to create awareness around Mumbai’s rich biodiversity and unique ecosystems, which need to be protected and preserved. We wanted to inspire an emotional connect in our audience through music, comedy and visual art; the artists did a fantastic job in that respect, with heartfelt artworks that highlight the complex connection that we share with our surroundings”.
A majority of these artists engaged directly with the issues that Ministry of Mumbai’s Magic demanded the office of Adithya Thackeray, as the Cabinet Minister for Tourism and Environment for the government of Maharashtra, to address, namely, declaring protected status for lesser flamingos within Maharashtra, conserving biodiversity hotspots around Mumbai, acknowledging Aarey as forest and ceasing all development activities in the area, creating policy that ensures sustaining the livelihood of Koli communities, and lastly, almost tragically in this day and age when the global environmental crisis continues to unfold at a rapid pace, acknowledging the need to protect marine ecosystems. Paul, for example, created a valorised illustration depicting certain customs and practices of the Koli people who have been routinely appearing in recent news as their traditional occupation, i.e. fishing, has come to be jeopardised by climate change, the difficulties brought on by the pandemic and most recently the encroaching of market space by migrant fisherfolk. In another illustration, by Pinto, we see a lesser flamingo inhabiting a stylised terrarium, an apt metaphor for what the future might look like for these majestic birds as their numbers decline as a result of various human activities.
Now more than ever, there is a visible appeal to go digital to raise awareness about exigent issues as it has become the only mode to communicate with the mass audiences in light of the COVID pandemic, but the efficacy of such a manoeuvre is yet to be seen and to this end #biodiversitybythebay has the opportunity to set the precedent in terms of environmental activism in India. Despite the necessity to navigate the online world as a means to connect people, for cynics, the depth of the impact that virtual interactions can have and their ability to reach new audiences who are not organically drawn to a cause can be brought into question when thinking of the cyberspace as an adequate stage for activism. Rawal, however, is not disparaged by such scepticism but is rather optimistic for the continued relevance of digital platforms and pandemic-era event planning for the proliferation of pertinent messages to the public.
“This year more than ever, we have had to find innovative ways of reaching and connecting with audiences. While an on-ground event is incomparable, especially for art forms like comedy and music, which rely heavily on the collective energy of an enthusiastic crowd, one cannot ignore the upside of being able to reach much wider audiences by shifting the stage online. Digital mediums have seen tremendous growth in this short period—we had an initial phase of experimenting with different ways of recreating a compelling enough virtual experience, but artists are now locking in on successful digital formats and quality livestreams, enabled and enhanced by developing tech solutions for sound, lighting, and audience interaction. For cause-led campaigns and digital festivals this can be especially effective because you can get so many more people involved, cultivate conversations that can really travel, and find faster ways of converting intent to action. I do see this trend of virtual entertainment experiences and harnessing the power of social media for positive impact continuing even after things return to ‘normal’.”