Rithika Pandey Explores Contested Relationship Between Nature and Humans

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When you look at an artwork by Rithika Pandey, there are certain elements that leap off the canvas. A range of conical forms jut out of circular human faces; a ginormous blackbird is suspended in a human house between two magical pillars; a black dog with a constellation on his belly holds onto a man’s legs for dear life. A sense of environmental angst and anxiety shows up in her canvas by taking a circuitous journey beginning from Indian villages to the Welsh countryside. “

I like building strange and eccentric worlds,” the Varanasi born artist says. “After the second year of my art college, I travelled the world to gain the kind of insights I wasn’t getting in art college. I was particularly inspired by the Welsh countryside and was happy to get into any arts college there, small or big, as long as I got the space to work.”

Amidst the calm of the countryside, Pandey’s art form became more structured. She could finally witness the degradation of humans and their relationship with nature—the willful ignorance of it all, how we keep pushing the limits of how much the natural world can take before it snaps into two “It’s evident that we are separating ourselves from our natural world. But then, the practice of painting is so primitive that it has stayed that way for millions of years, as opposed to digital art that can blend AI and new tech. So, I’d like to bring together this relationship through the traditional practice of painting.”

For St+art India, a not-for-profit organisation that organises public art projects across India, most recently the Mumbai Urban Art festival in Sassoon Docks, Pandey created a largerthan- life sculpture that was a post-apocalyptic vision of what would happen if the sea quite literally took over the reins of the city because of climate change. When that happens, there is a return to our ancient birthplace, the sea.

“I imagined what would happen if there was no land and we were forced to engage with the underwater world,” she explains. “I visualised a bunch of powerful non-human underwater entities that have adapted to this reality and are engaging with the new world in a ritualised way.” But is such a regeneration the only way forward?

“It is a violent process, but that’s just the laws of the universe,” she smiles. “Gentleness requires a lot of violence and vice versa, if that makes sense?”

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