Painting the Urban Jungle

Art has the power to communicate powerful truths more persuasively than a thousand essays or speeches.

Artists, poets, and musicians are hardwired to speak directly to the heart, to inspire and call to awareness and action. From the romantic painters of the 18th century to contemporary masters, artists have shown fascination and deep respect for our planet. With global warming and climate change making the daily headlines, artists are more relevant than ever, bringing their intensely personal, creative visions together, in acts of beauty and activism.

Ashish Kushwaha at his show ‘Inheritance of Loss’ held at the India International Centre this spring.; Photo courtesy: Ashish Kushwaha

Photo courtesy: Ashish Kushwaha

In the beginning

Ashish Kushwaha is a young artist beginning to make his mark. A native of Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh, India, and currently residing in Mumbai, he is a self-described ‘rural migrant’. Kushwaha experienced a jarring sense of displacement when he left his rural home, complete with exquisite waterfalls and nature reserves, to live in the heat and congestion of a mega-city.

Kushwaha describes his works as silent conversations between his subjects and the viewer. A powerful example is this painting ‘Where Am I?’; Photo courtesy: Ashish Kushwaha

Being well prepared in advance is important

What plays on his mind

A graduate of Indira Kala Sangeet Vishwavidyalaya in Chhattisgarh State, Ashish Kushwaha boldly incorporates ecological topics in his work.  Recurring themes include vanishing forests, rampant overdevelopment and the destruction of the community for animals and man. “My paintings are silent conversations,” says Ashish, “I am always thinking of prakriti – harmony of all living things, animals, and humans on our planet.”

Talking about his shows....

In May this year, Kushwaha had a solo exhibition at the India International Centre in New Delhi. It was easy to understand why the show was named ‘Inheritance of Loss’ as one strolled through the gallery – sad, solitary images of rhinos, peacocks, majestic deer, and elephants straining under heavy burdens, placed in empty fields of concrete and construction foundations. The titles were not comforting either- ‘My new home’, ‘Save me’, ‘Urban Metaphor’, ‘Exploitation’, ‘Nearing Extinction’. However, a handful of watercolors nostalgically representing scenes of a man and his dog carried some relief.

‘Is this My Way?’- Kushwaha explores the crisis many animals face through habitat loss.; Photo courtesy: Ashish Kushwaha

Mesmerizing art

Despite their sad, yet powerful message, Kushwaha’s works possess a striking, if stark beauty. His “silent conversations” draw the viewer into each scene and one can feel a sense of obligation and responsibility. You WANT to make a difference and save these precious, endangered animals. This is art with a mission greater than hanging on the wall behind the sofa. This is art to inspire empathy and action to protect the fragile beauty of our one and only terrestrial home.

A watercolor ‘Memories of Kodiyala’ captures a tender moment between a village boy and his dog.; Photo courtesy: Ashish Kushwaha

Edited by Dominic D’Cruz