Review by Tanishka D’Lyma
October 01, 2018


Earth as Haven: Under the Canopy of Love
Jayashree Chakravarty
September 11 to November 11, 2018
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum, Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation and KNMA, Mumbai


Wendell Berry offers us a definition of Nature as "subject matter and inspiration”. The definition serves its purpose from one perspective, that of an artist, but it still gives us only a broad aspect of it. That is because nature and all its offerings cannot be encompassed in a few words; 'Tintern Abbey' will tell you that. Nature has almost always been the centre of art, and has long inspired the artist. The effect of it taking various forms. The famous odes of the 18th century paints us a dream-like landscape with an abundance of trees and life around it. What nature have we to talk about today? Its loss is lost on most shielded from its direct tragedy, and we fail to understand that if we share the joys of the earth, we also must share with it its tribulations. Jayashree Chakravarty having grown up in the palm of groves, sharing the earth with other creatures has returned to its absence at the cost of urbanisation. Her work portrays this, the effects of the loss of a natural surrounding she knew so well.


Earth as Haven: Under the Canopy of Love was first shown in October 2017 at Guimet Museum. For a site specific installation fitting the rotunda that was her space, Chakravarty created overlapping curtain scrolls, 10 feet long, encompassing the installation at the centre that was a cocoon or a wasp-like canopy – a wire armature with leather-like skin of paper.


The scrolls take time, it is the idea that evolves in the mind of the artist day by day along with the curing of multi-layered sheets, we learn. And Chakravarty's explorations with different materials enters the boundaries of nature. The cover of the canopy and the curtains are made mostly of organic and reused materials, things she has found on land and collected herself. With such, the curtains comprise multiple layers of Nepal paper, cloth, cotton, tissue paper that have been worked on bit by bit, toughened to the likes of leather, cured with mud, glitter, paint, tea stains and more, creating a number of textures. 


Chakravarty's concern about the changing landscape due to urbanisation of her home, Salt Lake City, has been the centre of her artistic process. This concern dominates her use of Nepali paper, made from Nepal Paper Plant or Lokta Bush, offering eco-friendly tree-free paper. It's cultivation, production and sale also benefit artisans with a reliable source of income. Sandwiched in between these layers of paper are twigs, tapes from cassettes, leaves, plants, roots and an array of natural materials picked up by the artist. The result is a partly translucent shield that reveals its intertwined interiors when backlit. The painted insects and plants on the sheets, and visible roots from within its layers mimic the unabashed and haphazard designs of nature. But this quality is brought out only when on display, from the side of the viewer, it is then than life in them is animated. "The footprints are mine. What remains is what you can bring from within,” Chakravarty says in an interview.


The creature at the centre of the room lives within the walls of the scrolls, an immersive environment created for it, and us. Viewers are invited to walk through the insect-world, their legs showing to those outside gives it a centipede like image. The skin of the "wasp" too is made from the thickened cured paper. The pretty patterns replicating identifiable shapes and colours in between the matured sheets, its warm tones, the browns and hints of olive green lend an earthiness to the insect, and the environment that surrounds it. With these shades, what one wonders is that if this alludes to nature, does it represent nature that is decaying due to human actions? And if so, keeping in mind that a separation of our involvement and thereby effect on nature is almost impossible, how do we live in harmony with nature, and can we resurrect what is lost?


Earth as Haven: Under the Canopy of Love by Jayashree Chakravarty is presented by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum and Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation (JNAF) in collaboration with New Delhi’s Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA).