One of the most important catalysts in Jayashree Chakravarty’s art is the transformation of Kolkata’s Salt Lake area into a bustling township from a marshy land dotted with fishing villages. It was in the 1980s that she moved to the city, with her Ma and Baba, from Tripura, where she was born. In the process of setting up a new home, she lived in an area that was mostly an open field, rich with vast green patches and where everything was connected with aquatic life. 

Ariel view of Salt Lake, Kolkata (Source: Quora)

Snakes, snails and other water-bound creatures used to find their way into the house. While the occasional sight of a snake crawling towards the staircase once reflected the presence of an undisturbed natural ecology around her house, the increasingly hot and polluted air is now a measure of a sense of loss that is more than just an outcome of global warming. 

It is this sense of loss of nature that Jayashree has articulated in the 11 new works showcased at New Delhi’s Aakar Prakar Gallery, as part of a recent solo exhibition. Other than the Salt Lake context, her practice has been shaped by a childhood and youth spent in the hilly terrain of Tripura, a fine arts training course at Visva Bharati, Santiniketan, and a residency in France that exposed her to avant-garde art movements and new artistic innovations.    

Jayashree Chakravarty; Shelters; Acrylic, paper, thread, leaf, roots, oil on canvas

Webbed; Acrylic, paper, thread, leaf, oil on canvas

Titled “A Wired Ecology”, the exhibition centres around the artist’s perception of nature embodying a linear quality, seen along the world of plants, roots and other forms. The exhibition comprises of large, evocative canvases and scrolls, in which she uses a whole gamut of organic materials. These include dry leaves and flowers, twigs, branches, roots, medicinal seeds, tea/coffee stains, and, in this show, even crushed eggshells. 

Studying at the naturally rich environs of Santiniketan, where she spent five years, she learnt how to approach nature in her work through the teachers. She felt increasingly drawn towards the natural materials, including clay, even as she sparingly uses oil, colours and acrylic in her works.        

Surviving Energy; Oil, acrylic, cotton, leaf, jute on canvas

Imprints; Paper, cotton fabric, cotton, plant, leaf, jute, tea stain,
seeds on hand crafted paper

In her re-creations of wild forms of flora and fauna on canvas and paper scrolls, nature presents itself as a free-flowing pattern of geometric lines, imbued with a characteristic fragility and tentativeness. These repeating patterns of motifs and lines came into her practice after her residency years at the French university city Aix en Provence, where she was influenced by the avant-garde, but short-lived, French movement of Support/Surfaces.

While the movement itself drove the need to “return to the fundamental properties of materials to deconstruct a canvas, reducing it to its essential structure” and use everyday objects as art exhibits, she was particularly influenced by the works of Claude Viallat, a founding member of the movement. The artist is known for his “free canvases”, which often eschew a strict composition. The patterns of neutral forms and shapes that he created on unusual materials guided her approach to art. This experimentation with free movement of shapes and forms is visible in the lucidity of Jayshree’s works at Aakar Prakar, where the subject of nature lends itself to her practice and creative influence seamlessly. 

Palpable Connectedness; Paper, cotton fabric, cotton, acrylic paint, clay, flowers, roots, tea stain, pod skin

Writing about her practice in a companion essay to the exhibition, Roobina Karode says: “From roots to stems, from textures to armatures, twigs to creepers, the continuity of linear patterns and their formations have always fascinated the artist. They symbolize for her, the immanence of nature as a ‘wired ecology’. Through her art, she envisions and urges for a less divisive place on earth, that is fertile with possibilities of co-habitation and co-existence. She brings to bear upon her paper scrolls or canvases, the regenerative quality inherent in nature.” 

Perceiving nature as a redeeming or a regenerating force is a common metaphor. But in the ethereality of Jayashree’s works we also notice nature acquiring a quasi-wilting form, especially in the backlit paper scrolls—a recent technique in her art. 

Twigs to Creepers; Paper, cotton fabric, cotton, plant, leaf, jute, tea stain,
seeds on hand crafted paper

To this, Jayashree says: “I am drawn to nature from my childhood. I realised the pain inside me [of nature being ruined]. But the pain is also there in nature because here [Salt Lake] it is in a cage. There are brick walls here and inside them are some plants, a playground, iron nets or rods. It looks like a cage.” 

An abiding memory from her regular walks is observing weeds being crushed under a speeding car. As the car zips past, she notices the dead weed is sticking to one of the tyres. She looks at it for as long as the image of the wheel stays in her sight, until she returns to her studio to revisit the story of the weed in her work.

Roots to Shoots; Paper, cotton fabric, cotton, plants, jute, tea stain, acrylic paint, seeds

The Nature Whispers; Oil, acrylic, jute, leaf, cotton, paper on canvas

The exhibition was on view at Aakar Prakar, New Delhi, from Jan 29 to Feb 22, 2019. Picture courtesy: Aakar Prakar. 

Writing by Ankush Arora

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