Jayashree Chakravarty’s drawings, paintings, paper scrolls, and life-size installations revolve around the withering relationship of nature and humankind. Her life-long proximity to nature and its vagaries have shaped her practice as an artist. She owes this connection to her growing up years in the hilly state of Tripura, and her exposure to life at Santiniketan, where she studied art. After completing postgraduate studies at M.S. University, Baroda, she lived in Aix-en-Provence, France, as artist-in-residence at Ecole d’ Art, from 1993-95. A widely exhibited artist in India and abroad, some of Chakravarty’s most notable shows have been mounted at Musée Guimet, Paris; Musee Departemental Des Arts Asiatiques à, Nice, with Kiran Nadar Museum of Art; CSMVS, Mumbai, with Kiran Nadar Museum of Art; and Akar Prakar, New Delhi and Kolkata. In this conversation, the artist focuses on the mainstay of her practice: the influence of nature and the onslaught of relentless human activity on the natural environment, which she has closely observed since moving to Salt Lake, Kolkata, in the 1980s. Installation view of ‘A Wired Ecology – Recent Works by Jayashree Chakravarty’, at Akar Prakar, Kolkata Your work manifests the connection of humans and nature in a concrete jungle. What draws you to explore this relationship? Jayashree Chakravarty: Mostly, I focus on how a township changes the ecosystem. From my early work, I have been observing how we behave with the flora and fauna in a concrete jungle. I am from Salt Lake, Kolkata, which used to have many water bodies that have now been turned into land. In that area, there were many fisheries and different types of snails and snakes. There were times when snakes used to hide under the stairs of our house. It was a different atmosphere – fresh, lively and quite unlike the present-day Kolkata, which is claustrophobic. You could see a variety of birds then, and in the evenings one could hear foxes howling. Suddenly, high-rises came up, and these natural elements started vanishing. The way we interact with nature these days – it is really bothersome. We exploit the power that we have and destroy what is theirs – we cut trees, fill up water bodies and leave many people homeless. What if we were to meet the same fate? Through my work, I try to create a dialogue around issues that bother me. But I cannot really explain what I go through while creating this visceral. Jayashree Chakravarty; Continuity of linearity; Paper, cotton fabric, jute, tea stain, coffee stain, cotton, seeds, leaf & acrylic paint; 95.5 x 64.5 inches; 2018 There is a sense of transition and continuity between your previous and current work. Can you reflect upon this trajectory? Jayashree: Yes, in my practice one work leads to another. But I took a break from work when my mother was ill. Creative work like painting needs eight to nine hours of effort, just like any other form of work. I couldn’t spare that kind of time during that period. I feel that phase affected my work a lot. I started observing more and more, and began noticing things I had overlooked before. I developed a connection with broken trees, weak plants and uprooted weeds, which I noticed as the township began coming up in my area. I am trying to bring these elements in my current work as there is a certain duality to this human-nature relationship. For example, when cars run over roadside weeds, the three-dimensional figure gets smashed, and turns into a two-dimensional one. I have worked with this idea in my recent work, and I have used those creepers, and other parts of plants like twigs and leaves in my work. Lately, I have been drawn towards the roots, and they have become strong subjects of my narrative. The felling of trees makes the soil lose, and when storms rage they fall off easily. In my paintings, I show swirling winds, and how trees, their roots and branches react to it. Expanded Roots; oil, acrylic, jute, cotton, paper, and, tea stain on canvas; 50×69 inches; 2019 In your work, you use a variety of organic materials such as tea and coffee stains, seeds, threads and audio tape. How did these materials find their way into your practice? Jayashree: Oil paints speak to me the most. They tend to enmesh with me the moment I touch them. Apart from oil, there are a lot of organic bits in my paintings. My materials include coffee powders, used tea leaves, creepers, leaves, jute, cotton, dry roots, clay, etc. Mostly, what I find goes with my painting. I try to give them a more dynamic look, as if the flora and fauna are speaking for themselves. I have always been close to nature, whether in Tripura or Santiniketan. During my BFA in Santiniketan, I was drawn towards making organic colours. We had classes where I was making earth colours and vegetal colours. I sustained my love for organic materials even in Baroda. All these interests found their way in my work. Writing and interview by Sudeshna Saha Roy Featured image: Jayashree Chakravarty at her studio in Kolkata.