Art attack

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Using art as their medium, young artists from Goa have been voicing their concerns over the environmental impacts of the three proposed projects passing through the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary, Mollem.
 NT BUZZ learns more

CHRISTINE MACHADO | NT BUZZ

A blue skinned lady sits alongside a ferocious tiger and snake, a sword in one of her many hands, ready to defend Goa and her verdant forests, in a cheerfully-hued sketch by youngster Vaibhav Salgaonkar.

The artwork, uploaded on Instagram, is one of three done by Salgaonkar to create awareness about the far-reaching impacts of the planned development projects through the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary, Mollem.

“I have given her multiple hands to show the many things that she can do as ‘the guardian of the forest’. In one hand she holds a book, signifying the knowledge she has about the forest and its conservation, while the sword shows that she has the power to save the forest,” says the 23-year-old artist. In another hand, the woman holds a hornbill, one of the important bird species found in Mollem, while a flower is pictured in a fourth hand, symbolising the abundant flora found in the area.

“Through this sketch, I wanted show the warrior spirit that we must have in order to protect our forests and wildlife. Mollem is the heart of Goa. If it is destroyed there will be major consequences,” says Salgaonkar. “We have the power in us to bring a change. We just need to step up and face it like warriors.”

Stepping up

And stepping up is exactly what a number of people, including young artists from different parts of Goa and beyond have been doing to bring to notice the large scale damage that could happen owing to three proposed projects – doubling of the existing railway line from Kulem to Margao, laying of power transmission line and four-laning of the existing National Highways 4A.

The development projects approved by State Wildlife Board in December 2019 and cleared by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in April 2020 could see Goa losing around 185 hectares of forest cover with the felling of around 55,000 trees.

Apart from repercussions like increased animal mortality and habitat loss, the deforestation will lead to soil erosion which in turn could cause flooding. Effects on climate change are also on the long list of drastic impacts.

The Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary in Mollem, which contains the Mollem National Park, is the largest of Goa’s protected wildlife areas and is home to a huge number of plant species, birds, reptiles, mammals, fish, fungi, etc. Among these are said to be species which are already classified as high conservation concern and which are endemic to the Western Ghats.
 “Since my childhood, I have always visited the forests of Mollem. Through these treks I experienced the pure existence of nature and wildlife and am lucky to have walked through an ancient and undisturbed ecosystem,” says illustrator Danica Da Silva Pereira. Thus, when she learned about the environment impact of the projects through marine conservationist Gabriella D’Cruz, the Goan artist who is presently in the UK was buoyed to do her part to create awareness. “Gabriella had posted a series of photos which showed the ‘before’ pictures of what Mollem used to be and the ‘after’ pictures which showed utter destruction of a large portion of the forest. Stacks or dead trees just piled one on top of the other. It was like a massacre,” says Pereira, who decided what better way to express how she felt about the whole affair than through her illustrations.

 “I explained through illustrations and text how over time linear intrusions lead to forest fragmentation which in turn leads to decline in population, water pollution and road kill,” says Pereira, whose post was shared over 800 times on Instagram and has reached over 5000 people on social media.

“Some things need to be left alone”

Artist Nadia De Souza on the other hand may not have any personal memories of Mollem, but she, like many other Goans has enjoyed exploring nature around Goa and that was reason enough for her to wholeheartedly join the campaign to save Mollem. “Some things need to be left alone,” she declares. And her work on the issue reflects the calming effect of the forests.

“My painting shows my cousin, during one of our trips to her father’s farm, painting and completely at peace in the jungle. It is also a reflection of what I felt while painting it. A kind of peace you will never find in the city,” says De Souza, who herself has learned much after she got involved like the fact that Goa is among the 36 biodiversity hotpots in the world.

“I also learned that India ranks fifth in the global climate risk index, which really made me want to fight with everything I had,” she says, adding that the ‘mymollem.goa’ page on Instagram was her main source of information.

And indeed with over 2K followers on Instagram, the mymollem.goa page has been creating a lot of buzz on social media. Apart from sharing facts and data about the projects in easy to understand ways, the page admins have also been holding webinars with green experts, sharing photographs of the flora and fauna found in these parts, as well as the detailed artworks being done by the many artists.

A celebration of  Mollem

In fact, says Francesca Cotta, one of the young activists and page admins, art has been hugely responsible for the popularity of this particular campaign. “Artists have a way of taking issues that seem dull or disconnected to people’s realities and actually connecting it to things that feel meaningful and personal to regular people,” she says.

Besides, she says, the art has also become a celebration of what Mollem means to people. “Personally, for me as somebody who has been involved with the campaign, it also serves as a motivation to continue the fight,” she says. This motivation is especially essential given that the ongoing pandemic has led to a few challenges such as being unable to organise protests on the ground.

“Art makes us feel”

In fact, the page itself features a ‘Create’ section, where artists are invited to submit artworks.

“Being a sensory experience, whether expressed through sounds, light, visual or text, art makes us feel and that is the space we wanted to cultivate where citizens can come in and express,” says artist and researcher Svabhu Kohli, who is one of the main persons behind the art side of the campaign.

In the beginning, says Kohli, they personally wrote to a few select artists who through their work were already engaging with narratives around ecology. These artists were briefed on the impact of the projects planned. A data bank of the ecology and cultural degeneration these projects would have on Goa’s identity and ecosystems was also created. Once the artists began to engage with the data and create forms and interpretations through art, they put out an open call via the social media handles and created an artists’ tool kit.

“It spiralled into a beautiful movement from there, where every day we have new artistic voices pouring in translating these complex ideas and emotions in forms of illustrations, videos, songs, poetry, music, etc” says Kohli, who himself has contributed with a stunning artwork of his own. “Goa’s natural abundance is astonishing. The Western Ghats is a magical realm of life forms that are still largely unexplored and new species keep being discovered every year. Can you imagine what lies at stake if we lose and misuse this wonder of nature that literally sits in our backyard?”

There is a reason why these are protected forests and with the post COVID world, I feel we have learned the harsh way again of what can happen if we infiltrate these dense forest zones,” he says.

And art plays a huge part in this, believes Kohli. “A large part of losing our forests comes from the lack of understanding of their importance and identity. I truly believe art can help bridge that gap. As people get more aware and feel connected to these forests, they will demand action for them and that in return can affect the decisions of the people who we elect into power,” he says.

Besides, he adds, he believes that people today are ready and want to know more on how they can engage and get involved. “I wouldn’t have said this on the first days of the campaign but just the sheer response is in a way restoring my faith in the fact that there are people out there,” he says. The ongoing pandemic also has played a large role in this, he adds. “With the future of the world at stake, we’re somewhere joining the dots of the role we play in larger systems that cause these disastrous actions to repeatedly take place,” he says.

But Cotta believes that there is still a need for more voices. “Given the population of Goa, there still needs to be more involvement. People need to take ownership of this issue because it affects everybody in Goa,” she says.