As a child, New Delhi-based sculptor Arunkumar HG would often saw his grandmother mixing ash with seeds and putting them up on the walls of her house. This not only conserved the crops but also helped her keep a close watch on them. A few months ago, when Susan Hapwood, owner of the Mumbai Art Room, a public charitable trust, asked HG if he would like to use her space to display his work, he knew he wanted to create an awareness amongst Mumbaiites about conserving our rich biodiversity by taking a cue from his grandmother.
He started off by gathering over 50 kinds of leaves from his parents’ farm in Karnataka and his home in Gurgaon. Later, he sourced more than 30 types of seeds from across the country. Clearly, his hard work titled Seeds of Reckoning, is there for everyone to see. The white walls of the Mumbai Art Room have been transformed into a forest replete with ephemeral compositions of seeds, leaves, dirt and cow dung. The words ‘culture’ and ‘daana’ — a word that means seed in Hindi and donation in the artist’s native Kannada language — emerge from the multi-coloured patterns, offering witty double meanings about art, environmental bounty, progress, and the need to preserve seed types for future agriculture. On the left wall, the work titled Releaf includes foliage from many different trees: cinnamon, mango, jackfruit and banyan, among others. Also on display is a large-format of the artiste’s book, Tract (2011), containing lush colour photographs shot over five years.
The fact that seeds are usually collected by farmers in May and sowed in June, HG knew that this was the right time conceptualise Seeds of Reckoning due to increased genetic engineering and lack of basic knowledge among people about the seeds that they consume. He was also appalled by the degeneration of the environment and the fact that we are slowly moving towards agricultural monopoly by consuming mainly rice and wheat. As a result, he deliberately chose seeds like ragi, barley and oats, which are a part of our food heritage, consume less water for cultivation and are rich in nutrients, for the exhibition. He says, “As a child, I saw huge sandalwood trees around the farm where I was growing up. Now when I visit the same place I can’t find a single sandalwood tree. I want to create awareness amongst people to look around our environment, identify with the ecological system and take on the responsibility of passing it on to future generations.”