Saturday, April 23, 2016

Painting dead trees alive

Living in our crowded, polluted urban environments, we yearn to see a bigger patch of sky, trees and bushes of all sizes, or just more open spaces. And trees define and beautify the skyline and the space around our neighbourhoods as only they can.

The poet Joyce Kilmer wrote:

"I think I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree............

....................Poems were made
by fools like me
But only God can make a tree."

There may be poems about symmetries of trees too, but as an artist I have always marvelled at their awesome symmetry which I am sure contributes to their beauty.

There are spectacular cases of bilateral symmetry in nature, like the Traveller's Palm Trees of Singapore. As per legend, the orientation of the trees in a East-West direction, and the water stored at the base of the leaves were great resources for thirsty and tired travellers.

A Ficus tree shows a unique radial symmetry. Which means you could cut the tree in half at different angles, but as long as you cut through the center, the two halves would be identical.

With such a great "Form" bestowed by nature, dead trees are a "thing of beauty" and "a joy forever" too. You feel sad looking at a dead tree in the urban environment, choked as they are with all the buildings around. Often the footpath around a tree is constructed and does not allow the roots to breathe, cables of all kinds mercilessly cut through the branches of the tree; banners, and electric lights are strung across, large vehicles brush past unmindfully, and people nail wooden signages to the trunk casually, not pausing to wonder if the tree was still alive!

All this for trees that ask little of us, purify our air, beautifies the surroundings, add moisture to the air; and all parts of the tree like its leaves, twigs, seeds, fruits, and even dead stumps are all useful.

The artist Curtis Killorn in Colorado has been painting dead trees in spectacular colours. He says he paints them so that they don't blend into the live trees around them, and people notice how beautiful they still are.

Three young women in Mumbai with a mind of their own, similarly started painting dead trees in Mumbai, for a different reason. They wanted to draw attention to the number of trees which had been dying on the streets of Mumbai due to lack of care, and instead of providing shade and shelter to the citizens, were hardly visible with the city rubble and hustle-bustle. The group called "Rastaa Chaap" (meaning "Street Wanderer", literally) has painted dead trees in bright colours to draw the attention of citizens and municipality authorities, to these dead trees, which would otherwise have been quite invisible.

Here are some pics.

Some celebrity participants (Twinkle Khanna) and funds from NGOs and corporates have helped the group. They plan to take the movement to other cities. And of course, hope that this will launch public awareness, funds and efforts to save the live trees!

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