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Rooting for a cause

Giving a voice to the biodiversity endemic to the Western Ghats, artists have come together to sketch their way to save this habitat from getting disrupted, writes Arti Das
Last Updated : 20 July 2020, 06:42 IST
Last Updated : 20 July 2020, 06:42 IST

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It all started around World Environment Day on June 5 when news spread like wildfire that Goa’s only National Park — Mollem National Park and Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary — is under threat due to three development projects. The projects include a four-lane highway, laying of LILO transmission lines and double-tracking a railway line that will divert around 170 hectares of protected forests. These projects were given a virtual approval by the standing committee of the National Board of Wildlife in India in April during the lockdown.

The news, circulated widely on social media, came as a shock resulting in the coming together of researchers, environmentalists, members of the business community, ordinary citizens, artists, and students, who expressed their displeasure and demanded that the decision be reconsidered. It also gave rise to something very creative. Many citizens, especially youth from Goa and other parts of the country, expressed their concern through art by depicting the beauty of this biodiversity while highlighting the impending danger.

The protected area is also home to more than 721 plant species, 235 bird species, 219 butterfly species, 80 odonate species, 70 mammal species, 75 ant species, 45 reptile species, 44 fish species, 43 fungi species, 27 amphibian species, 24 orchid species, and 18 species of lichens. It also includes Goa’s iconic Dudhsagar waterfall. Many of these species are endemic to the Western Ghats.

Two dedicated pages on Instagram have now been created for artists to express their concerns. They are My Mollem Goa (www.instagram.com/mymollem.goa/) where all the news related to Mollem is shared and even artworks are posted, and the student art project page (www.instagram.com/mollem.memory.project/) created by school and college students, apart from the Facebook page ‘Save Mollem’ that has been garnering support for Mollem.

Artwork by Maria Kimberly Furtado
Artwork by Maria Kimberly Furtado

High stakes

These artworks are not restricted to just illustrations but also include photographs, infographics, poems, videos and a dance performance video by dancer Impana Kulkarni. The video by Kabir Naik on the biodiversity of Mollem created the right buzz as it gathered more than 27,000 views on Instagram. “Waking up and seeing art is like getting these surprise gifts when matters of environmental governance can be numbing,” says Nandini Velho, wildlife biologist and the one who spearheads this campaign. She adds, “At a broader scale, I would say artists have been able to inspire and remind us about what is at stake.”

Francesca Cotta, one of the curators of these pages, is overwhelmed with the response as they received entries from more than 50 artists. She says, “There’s an outpouring of creative and personal responses to the forests. They want to get involved beyond sending an email or tweeting about it. Art becomes a celebration of what you are trying to protect or the change you want to see.” The campaign is also making continuous efforts to speak about Mollem biodiversity by hosting webinars that focus on lesser-known fauna like ants, butterflies, dragonflies as the recently discovered species of Goan Shadow dancer (Idionyx gomantakensis) is only found in this region in Goa.

Artwork by Svabhu Kohli
Artwork by Svabhu Kohli

When art is your medium

Many of these artworks are full of bright colours reflecting the beauty of the Mollem forest. The messages through works are direct and subtle, but they immediately grab your attention. “Often with words or word-based protests, there’s an emotion of anger and rage. Sometimes people are understandably put off by it. Art lends new energy into any issue. It helps people to stay inspired, motivated, and also express their innate creativity,” says Cotta.

Many of these artworks speak about the particular species of Mollem, like the work of Nishant Saldanha who portrays Flame-throated Bulbuls, the state bird of Goa. “In the coming days, I am also planning to do artworks on the state tree and animal. It is mainly to highlight them as co-dependent and integral species of the forest and to see beyond the state-sanctioned symbols that they are,” says Saldanha.

Deepti Sharma’s artwork is mainly about the birds of Mollem, focusing on forest species like the Sri Lankan frogmouth. She says, “I am still trying to learn more about these forests and their wonderful species. I wanted to share that sense of discovery. I am hoping that I can create more empathy for the forests through my art.”

Flame-throated Bulbuls artwork by Nishant Saldanha
Flame-throated Bulbuls artwork by Nishant Saldanha

For environmental justice

The other works speak about the direct threat in the advent of these projects getting a green signal. One such issue is the fragmentation of the forests that will result in roadkill, the arrival of invasive species, water pollution, etc. All this is presented in a non-fictional narrative sequence by Danica Da Silva Pereira. She hopes that such illustrations will inspire people to take action and voice their concerns. “The human brain processes visuals 60 times faster than text, so visuals such as illustrations can be used to our advantage to communicate and break down information related to such issues that surround us,” says Pereira.

Art historian and curator Lina Vincent says, “Artists have always held a mirror to their times and create commentaries on contemporary experiences. Perhaps this period of the pandemic is also allowing us to contemplate a little deeper on the fragility of our world and our lives — and pushing us to fight for social and environmental justice.”

For Velho, it is a crucial time to come together as she opines that this fight to save our forests is everybody’s fight. She concludes, “One of the failures of environmental governance is making it a matter for ‘greens’ or ‘activists’ or ‘experts’. Artists have shown us plurality and inclusiveness. None of them have said we need to have a specialisation related to science or nature and only then can we fight for Mollem, it’s everyone’s fight. The choice for having nature in our everyday life is ours to make.”

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Published 18 July 2020, 18:35 IST

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