Head to an exhibition where an artist uses Birds of Paradise to tell stories of ecological damage and conflict in South-East Asia and the Western Pacific isles
Illegal bird markets in Jakarta
In 2014, Mumbai-based Garima Gupta had a chance encounter that changed her life. On a visit to West Papua, she met Zeth Wonggor in the rainforests of the Arfak mountains. A one-time hunter, he was now a guide for people interested in spotting Birds of Paradise in the remote corners of the rainforests. "At one point, he used to shoot down these birds and now he was working as a conservationist. I decided to document his story," recalls the freelance illustrator and avid birder.
A common root vegetable, Chinese Taro, is consumed in both, West Papua and Papua New Guinea
Around the time she finished documenting his story on paper, the South East Asian belt till Papua New Guinea was ravaged by large-scale fires that destroyed vast swatches of rainforests and wildlife habitats of many species, including parts of Arfak, home to the vibrantly coloured birds. "It was then that I decided to pursue the project. While the hunter story was interesting, I realised it was too small in scale. I decided to go back and dig deeper," she says.
Lesser Bird of Paradise at the Bali Bird Park
Her findings and documentations will be on display for a month at Clark House. Titled Minutes of the Meeting, the exhibit includes pencil sketches and two videos.
What's in a name?
The title of the show is borrowed from Gupta's childhood "My grandfather started a school in Delhi and was part of the administrative team. Every meeting had minutes, and I grew up hearing that term mentioned a lot, she reminisces.
"These are meetings I've had with people. The time I've spent speaking to people in these regions are meetings of sorts, and I've documented every minute," she reasons.
With the Birds of Paradise as the centerpiece, Gupta examines the historical narrative of ecological damages and current conflicts of the South-East Asian and Western Pacific regions, and the complexities associated with the relationship of the birds with the people of the region. "The communities there have incorporated the mating dance of the birds in their ceremonies. The men dress up as birds, and even sing their praise. Then, on the other hand, they also shoot down these birds for food (it is part of their protein intake) and sometimes, stuff them for taxidermy," she shares.
Gupta spent about five months exploring Huon Peninsula in Papua New Guinea, the Arfak mountains and Nibokrang in West Papua along with parts of Borneo and Bali. In Lae, she teamed up with Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP). While Gupta had a research assistant who could translate work for her, in West Papua, she ventured out on her own. "The natives of the Arfak mountains and the low-lying Nimbokarang speak broken English but since I was staying with them they were more forthcoming," she says, adding, "The mainstream conversation is confined to a blame game. I think they were surprised that someone would want to know their side of the story."
TILL: March 8, 11 am to 7 pm
AT: Ground floor, Clark House building, Colaba.