Circles of grief and hope

Circles of grief and hope

An online art exhibition that began as an uproar but settled into an intimate protest against the destruction of nature

‘Parasparopagraho Jivanam’ by Anup Naik

If you kill a tree outside/ a tree inside dies/ roots wither/ branches of information collapse/ some old tunes are lost/as grains of dust/ washed away in the bloodstream.”

This evocative poem titled, ‘If You Kill’ by Goa-based poet Salil Chaturvedi, which is part of the online interdisciplinary art exhibition, ‘Mandalas for Mollem,’ sets the tone, and in a way, prepares you for what’s in store.

‘Mandalas for Mollem’ is an online art exhibition born out of concern for Goa’s Mollem forest, which is now under threat due to three linear projects — double-tracking of railway lines, expansion of a highway, and laying of LILO transmission lines. These projects were given virtual approval by the standing committee of the National Board of Wildlife in India in April 2020 during the lockdown.

This resulted in an uproar among Goans as it made them realise that this forest, which is one of the biodiversity hotspots of the world, is in deep trouble. It also gave rise to the ‘Save Mollem’ campaign that aims to create awareness in different ways, including artworks.

However, ‘Mandalas for Mollem’ is different as it looks at the issue in a more intimate way and explores the artists’ perspective not only about Mollem, but also forest and ecology in general.

Universal symbolism

Art historian, academic and curator Apurva Kulkarni, who initiated this project, says, “The Mollem issue is huge and that makes you feel intimidated. Then there is a faceless authority that doesn’t give a damn to your opinion. So, I was feeling helpless and enraged. Hence, I started exploring how I can put my voice across.”

He started this process in January and then he interacted with a few Goa-based researchers, scientists and environmentalists like Parag Rangnekar, Madhura Niphadkar, Nirmal Kulkarni (who has also exhibited his work), Tallulah D’Silva and others. “This interaction was to understand the Mollem issue better,” says Kulkarni.

Regarding the use of mandalas, Kulkarni asserts that the circle has relevance since the time of Paleolithic Art. “It is a part of every religion and culture, right down to commerce as now we use circles in logos. What fascinates me is its ubiquity, which is embedded in our collective consciousness.”

He then invited Goa-based artists for an online residency under AltaMira, which Kulkarni has started. Finally, 32 artists came forward for this residency. This one-month online art  residency was held in the month of May when Goa, like many other states, was facing the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, lockdown as well as the cyclone Tauktae.

Kulkarni mentions that during that time, there was a palpable sense of grief that resulted in the coming together of all the artists. “The online residency became a way of holding hands and hugging each other through art. Also, many artists told me afterward that it helped them to think of something which is larger than them,” explains Kulkarni.

Thoughtful and provocative

After a gap of two months, the works were released online on the AltaMira website in August. It includes works on paper, sculptural objects, installations, assemblages, textile art, a short film, GIFs, digital drawings, and even a terrarium. Some of the artworks are provocative, hopeful, grieving and almost all are thoughtful.

Anup Naik’s artwork, which is based on a Jain mandala, is a video presentation titled, ‘Parasparopagraho Jivanam’; it shows a ticking clock amidst the railway tracks, indicating that time is running out.

Akshay Chari’s untitled work shows a row of teeth on a hill. He says, “It speaks of the extraction from hills and how a capitalistic world feeds off on their resources. The colour red represents the richness in the soil, and at the same time, blunder, death and murdering of trees.”  

The most shocking work is by Cornelia Sequeira; in her one-minute video titled, ‘Tomorrow’s Past’ with a poem, ‘In the dead of night’ by Kelly Faria, she speaks of what we have already done to our forests and what we are planning to do now. Leticia Alvare’s work titled, ‘Mourners’, shows a group of women around a tree. She says, “My work shows we are all saddened with the current situation and want to protect it (the tree), and grieve over its death.”

A lost way of being

Nirmal Kulkarni’s work titled, ‘Vanastri Marked’, which has a basalt stone with a red dot, speaks of lingering threats. “The sacred groves of Mollem are very special to me. I have literally grown around them. One day, I saw some of these trees being tagged in red with a nail to be felled; that really moved me. For me, these trees are living goddesses and whether you are a field researcher like me or a cattle grazer or just a tourist, whenever you come across these trees, they will surely impact you,” says Kulkarni.

Like Nirmal, even for Miriam Koshy, the whole Mollem issue became more personal that really impacted her when the cyclone Tauktae uprooted her beloved mango tree (which she then managed to replant). Her video installation titled, ‘Maa-Tree-Ka: Recentering to the Core’, is an ecological art and performance featuring arboreal sculptures made with found and foraged natural materials. It is inspired by Indian and Egyptian mythologies.

Koshy says, “It uncovers a lost way of being. A way of being that will help us as a species find a way to live in the only home we have.” 

(To view this exhibition, log on to      


Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox