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Roots of Soil: Fluctuating Veracities

by Alka Chadha Harpalani

“We can only know if soil is alive when life grows out of it,” says the sensitive artist Krishnachari whose exhibition titled ‘Roots of Soil’ held recently at ChitraKala Parishath, Bangalore.

Artist Krishnachari

In the show one sees the small frames enfolding the distinctive character of various plants deriving the uniqueness from the living soil, which the artist personifies as nature. The delicate artworks with detailed water colours of the flora of the native area (though somewhat lost on the huge walls of the gallery) without a doubt capture and document the changes and growth of a particular region and convey a larger meaning in relation to bio-diversity and extinction of certain species.

A vertical art piece created on eco-friendly khadi cloth by using the graphic print technique draws one’s attention as soon as one enters the gallery. Krishnachari imagines landscape in a non-conventional way through a dead log, split down the middle, discarded and found floating in a stream near Muttala village, in Shivamogga district. Representing the embodiment of the panchabhootas (five physical elements), he sees the log as a composite form composed of earth (prithvi), air (vaayu), sun (agni), water (jal), and sky (akasha).

Krishnachari’s artworks not only depict soil as a source of life, but also paint a picture of the cruel reality of the inconsiderate disposition of humans polluting soil with plastic, cement, chemicals, fertilizers, and so much more. The artist shows how the roots of the plants embedded in the soil have now turned poisonous, drying out the soil and making it inert. He depicts the biological diversity endowed in the Western Ghats, which carries ‘pharmacological, perfumery, culinary and culturally endowed plant species’. Krishnachari has engaged diverse forms of nature in his artistic creations to create a piece of his impression of a bio-diverse Malenadu where he grew up.

Small platters displaying myriad variety of textures and colours of soil found in the area become art forms in their own right. “I try to construct a contemporary humanistic impression of nature integral to everyday living in the Western Ghats of Karnataka. There is willful and cultured use of soil, clay, and seeds, apart from a palette of water colours to recreate the subtle hues of nature that is an everyday part of the surroundings and culture of the Malenadu region.”

In one of his works there’s a heart grounded in the soil, growing its roots deep into the crib of surrounding nature, representing the feelings of the local people. A canvas coated with red soil presents a monochromatic barren landscape with stairs leading into oblivion through the mine shaft, hinting at mineral mining. “The monotone of the piece invokes a jarring thought of what is left behind after the devastation we cause for pleasure-seeking, which causes irregularities of one particular species.”

Goodu (Nest) depicts the contrast of a naturally occurring cluster of life in the honeycomb against the cluster of life composed in a cement-filled cityscape that raises an alert of how the bee population is being threatened to extinction by humankind. The collection also artistically depicts the necessity of biological diversity for the survival of keystone species like the Indian one-horned rhino and bears, among others.

Krishnachari’s environmental consciousness does not only capture the flora and fauna, and the fluctuating veracities of soil but also imagines a new purpose for the discarded packaging that comes from pallets. The pinewood planks were re-purposed to prepare each frame for the paintings, thus subtly implying how artists can propagate the message of environmental sustainability through art.

(All images are courtesy of the artist Krishnachari and Alka Chadha Harpalani)


Dr Alka Chadha Harpalani is an artist, researcher, writer, poet, and has worked as a professor. She is involved in an e-learning project by MHRD (Ministry of Human Resource and Development) at Dayalbagh University, Agra. Editor of the journal Artistic Narration (Anu Books) for over 10 years and recipient of many prestigious awards and honours, she has held and participated in many all India and international exhibitions, and published research papers and articles in renowned art journals, newspapers and magazines.


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