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May 09, 2019

Artist And The Environment: Arunkumar H. G.

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena

The artist’s carefully considered use of material — which includes industrial waste — provides a relevant comment on current environmental concerns

Hailing from a farming family in the Western Ghats of Karnataka, Arun Kumar H.G., a graduate from the Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU) of Baroda, worked in the toy industry for a while. His experiences in contrasting environs — the ghats and metropolitan cities — led him to realise and address certain ecological issues through his art. And, the 51-year-old artist’s carefully considered use of material — he is known to recycle and rework industrial waste, particularly wood from scrap yards — provides a relevant comment on current environmental concerns.

On being raised in a farming family
Growing up, I didn’t realise the importance of the region in our lives; I learnt of its significance only after we lost a greater part of it. We have lost the virgin forest here, and people are not aware of the older generations’ harmonious relationships with nature. Earlier, we had sufficient rainfall and a lot of water everywhere, thanks to which there were plenty of animals, birds and enough food for everyone.

On the severity of ecological issues
I remember the first borewell came to our area in the mid ’70s, as a public drinking water system — a hand-pump. It’s been about 45 years since then, and now almost every house in the region has one. But the arrival of borewells caused people to neglect the existing natural water resources.

The hilly region of the Western Ghats has a unique ecosystem, and its health is dependent on the protection of its forest cover. But we’ve done so much irreparable damage to it in the last four to five decades, simply to fulfil the needs of a modern life. We have not only lost our real living heritage, but have also put our future generations in danger.

On spotlighting eco issues
I do not call myself an environmentalist, but I am a student of the environment. Practically speaking, one must have a basic understanding of where it all comes from or where it goes after our use — the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat. We often have knowledge about far-off things, but know nothing about the tree that is right in front of us. My family grows the food we need, so we are involved with its production processes and aware of environmental issues, which I earlier thought of as being separate from agriculture, but now I can see how they feed off each other. For example, farmers are closest to the forests. If they suffer, so do the forests.

On the thought behind Droppings And The Dam (Damn)
The installation is a plastic tapestry. Droppings And The Dam (Damn (2018) is woven with bottle caps collected from a particular neighbourhood over a period of time. The idea of this exercise was to visualise the scale of the trash that we produce and the speed at which we do this without giving a thought to sustainability. The trash ends up in natural waterbodies and hence most rivers passing through metros are no longer regarded as rivers in their original sense. The number of bottle tops employed in this work is a testament to the growth of the bottling business and its impact on natural waterbodies

On the effect of his installations, Con-struction I and II
Con-struction I and II (2018) came eight years after my earlier body of work Tract (2010), which was more about production, consumption and disposal. After that show, I took some time off from the usual studio-based practice to spend more time at my family farm. It was important for me to reconnect with the ground and learn about the link between the cycle of environmental ecology and the predominantly agrarian occupation and state of people living there. I have started rejuvenating a piece of forest land next to our family farm that had been denuded and begun environmental awareness programmes involving local intellectuals, activists and environment practitioners. This has evolved into a centre for Knowledge and Environment called SARA (Sustainable Alternative for Rural Accord).

Con-struction I and II are narratives about us humans. ‘Con’-struction is a word I employed to bring my works into the context of encroachment, use and abuse of earth’s resources. Also, it’s about how we have become more human-centric than ever before.

Read part 3 with Bai Das here.

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