“I have to tell you that his beak is not just another yellow, but the solemn sunset of an ancient forest. The black is a shade of one of the hundred ficus trees that a hornbill is meticulously tending, and the loud green is everything in between. “
It’s hard to recover from the sublime that Edmund Burke called our greatest passion after seeing Sudarshan Shaw’s surreal depictions of the wilderness and the beings that inhabit it. It’s hard to believe that there are even ordinary things. If you do, Shaw’s owl, carrying ashes of soot and the crescent moon of the moon, could materialize in your dreams.
Some time ago, the 26-year-old brought out a Pattachitra-style wildlife map by Odisha, which depicts the different species of fauna of the state with their different biodiversity zones in the background and the nearby indigenous communities in community with them.
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The tableau-style map is populated by mammals of the state including the Indian pangolin, leopard, black buck, four-horned antelope, spotted deer, wild boar, species of birds such as the osprey, the malabar hornbill, the smaller adjutant stork, the Barn owls and reptiles such as the king cobra, saltwater crocodile and water monitor lizard. Shaw also includes species such as the Irrawaddy Dolphins and Olive Ridley Turtles (the Odisha Coast includes the latter’s largest nesting beach).
“I’m from Odisha, so I had traveled to many places and had prepared my research beforehand. I have also traveled to West Bengal, Delhi and Rajasthan as well as to the south, ”says the artist after I asked him what kind of journey he would have to undertake in order to understand the forest and animal landscapes so precisely. “There is a great similarity between West Bengal and Odisha when it comes to arts and crafts, the tribal influences in both traditions. They use natural substances for their primary colors, and the tradition of mud painting is as it is.”
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Shaw recently announced that he will be making an Andhra Pradesh map in a similar style – this time inspired by the Kalamkari of Srikalahasti in Chittoor. “The Andhra Pradesh map would be much more extensive and would go beyond the scope of the Odisha map with wild animals and tribes that I created. I’m going to include biodiversity, food, and other elements of culture, ”Shaw explains quietly.
The Andhra map teaser shows the Godavari River flowing into the Bay of Bengal, the little hills that are speckled all around, and ornate traditional-style interpretations of the region’s wildlife – black buck, elephant, Bengal tiger and even olive Ridley turtles. “The part of the border area where Odisha and Andhra Pradesh meet has tribes with similar customs in both states. This similarity is also shown in this card. I’ll do it so that we can see both the similarity and the diversity, ”he adds.
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The card went viral, making wildlife enthusiasts and art lovers rave about the Bhubaneswar artist’s earlier work. Shaw’s work on Instagram alone is an impressive collection of surreal everyday scenes from the forest, created in the style of folk art.
Take, for example, his bizarre portrait of the elusive fishing cat Baghrol – the state animal of West Bengal – in the Kalighat painting style. Another work of art shows a tiger pouncing on a deer. Both animals are wrapped around each other in the yin-yang style and painted in acrylic on a slightly flat pebble. Pen drawings of owls, rhinos and caracals as well as miniature sculptures of elephants and tigers dominate the rest of this collection.
Shaw has an interesting series in which he publishes works of art depicting forest dwellers as impressive, formidable unearthly beings who give the wilderness a divine, indescribable power. It is reminiscent of the artist’s belief that wildlife also includes the tribal communities of a place. In this series of works of art, Shaw interprets the lives of these beings as grand narratives and extraordinary events. Consider this depiction of the mating of a tiger and a tigress.
“When we worship Lakshmi, we have the barn owl by our side, and when we worship Shiva, Nandi is by his side. It was very important to me to present animals as equal and in the same light. That’s what the entire Divinity series is about, ”says a passionate Shaw.
“My style is based on the traditional way we looked at wildlife. We worship gods and goddesses and they can be seen in their regal attire. But we never see that [finery] about the animals that accompany them – I wanted to portray them in the same style as gods and goddesses, ”he adds.
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The emerging community of artists and bloggers on the Internet who are making the most of the small, cultic nature conservation revolution today is growing steadily. Their artwork usually focuses on both endangered and lesser-known species of wildlife and their own stylistic interpretation. While this definitely generates a mass interest in the protection and role of fragile ecological zones and their essence, one wonders where the need to preserve the much-needed privacy of the forest has gone?
“Imagine seeing a jungle in India about 200 to 300 years ago, before we experienced this level of invasion in these areas … The concept of national parks is a very western idea. If you go to a tribal country in India or Odisha you will see that the vibe is very different there. Conservation is in numbers, not in terms of life. This can only be achieved if we try to examine traditional ways of dealing with animals, ”he explains, adding that the stories and in-depth accounts of wild animal life he often shares on his side are actually the words the members are the forest community with which he has interacted.
And while we’re at it, there’s nothing like the following inspiration to sum up the idea– straight from the mouth of the proverbial horse?
“The Hornbill, the farmer of the forest, rightly disguises himself as an emperor, but without any signs of arrogance! This powerful realization sent a clear feeling of heaviness and stillness into me. I might have felt like a hornbill always felt. “