Even though ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ have become buzzwords in the last 20 years, awareness extended about it has remained limited to compulsory Environmental Studies classes in the school and college curricula. The immediacy of taking action on climate change has fallen flat in the face of the neo-liberal, consumerist world that we live in today.
This is not to say that citizens do not have access to an overwhelming amount of data regarding environmental degradation and climate change in the world. In fact, most people are inundated with all sorts of information and alerts about climate change every day in their newsletter subscriptions, Instagram, Twitter, and news channels.
What seems to be missing, then, is an emotional connect with such pieces of news which, despite claiming to make people aware about the environment, end up at the back of their heads, without moving us enough to want to take action.
Popular science magazine, Scientific American describes it as “art inspired by climate change and global warming, generally intended to overcome humans” hardwired tendency to value personal experience over data and to disengage from data-based representations by making the data “vivid and accessible.”’
This is what we believe too, so we brought together a curated list of homegrown artists who are engaging in environmental activism through their art. Here’s a curated list of such artists, specially created for Homegrown readers.
I. Mohan Kannan
Mohan Kannan is the lead vocalist of the rock band, Agnee, and also plays the mridangam. He grew up in a family of musicians and was trained in Carnatic music from an early age. However, a career in music became a reality only after he completed his MBA from XIMB and landed a cushy job in Deutsche Bank. In 2005, a jamming session with Coco (composer and lead guitarist, Agnee) convinced him that he wanted to be a musician and he quit his banking job.
Famous for having sung Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s melodious qawwali Yeh Jo Halka Halka while in XIMB, Odisha, as well as the iconic theme song of MTV Splitsvilla’s Aahatein, the lead singer of Agnee, Mohan Kannan, has come a long way. Off late, he lent his voice to Main Banjar, India’s first climate change-based song, for what is probably India’s first feature film on the same, Kadvi Hawa (2017).
The intense lyrics of this song made him want to lend his voice to it. He remembers reacting to the line, “Dhoondhoon Kahaan Raahaton Ka Pauna Sa Samandar”, (“Where do I find a quarter of the sea of the peace?”) after which he met Santosh Jagdale, the composer, and loved the entire creative work even more.
Environmental conservationist by day and singer-songwriter by night, Aditi Veena aka Ditty, reminds us of this with her latest album Poetry Ceylon, blending her two worlds to create a unique sound that is both a cry for help and a call to action. With hushed spoken-word poetry and searching melodies – an earnest reflection of the sadness, she carries for the way humans treat their surroundings – Ditty’s music is an attempt at getting people to wake up to a world that is often literally burning all around them. Ditty feels the pain that humans cause to creatures that have just as much of a right to the planet and says her work as a conservationist has a deep impact on her music. Watching the slow death of species every single day takes a toll on her, and all of it is reflected in her music. Her songs on the environment include ‘Food City’, ‘On An Island’, ‘Eulogy For A Sparrow’, ‘Garden’, ‘History Of Us’, ‘Deathcab’ and others.
III. Ricky Kej
Grammy Award winner and US Billboard Number One artist, Ricky Kej is an internationally renowned Indian music composer, environmentalist and professor, who has dedicated his life and music to creating awareness on the environment and positive social impact.
“It was through music that I fell in love with our natural world and I find a deep connection between music and Nature. I do all I can to create awareness about the environment and positive social impact through my music,” says Kej in an interview with The Hindu.
For his work, ‘Shanti Samsara’, which premiered at the U.N. COP21 in Paris, Kej collaborated with over 500 musicians from over 40 countries. His past repertoire of work includes 16 studio albums released internationally, over 3,500 commercials and 4 feature films, including the natural history documentary Wild Karnataka narrated by Sir David Attenborough. He even scored music for the opening ceremony of the Cricket World Cup 2011, held in Dhaka-Bangladesh.
In 2020, he is releasing his music album, EK of 12 songs that carry the message of environmental consciousness. Since the first song ‘Jaago’ released on August 5, six songs have been released.
IV. Anoushka Maskey
Mumbai-based singer-songwriter Anoushka Maskey, in her debut EP, Things I Saw in a Dream, established herself as a crooner of deep-souled sorrow. She revealed herself as someone who is able to achieve dizzying depths of wonder and grief without ever letting go of her tenderness. She continues to toe the line in C.E.A.S.E, getting under your goosebumps with the sweltering lustre of her voice while lyrically describing terror and despair. Verses such as “Enter the end/Here is where we begin/ in reverie” and “Save all your tears/ nothing to come of it/ just bend your knee” invoke visions of the apocalypse next door. The entire EP, in fact, spins tales of a dying world. Though ostensibly fictional, it is a scathingly accurate representation of the real world, doomed to burn as humanity plunders the environment for pleasure and privilege.
V. Manav Gupta
Manav Gupta, an artist from Kolkata, has co-opted his art practice in paintings, poetry, music and sound to create one-minute films on climate change, sustainable development, ecosystems, and alternative energy projects. His biography states that global warming, man’s interference with nature and man’s disregard for environmental consciousness impact his work. He affirms the age-old sanctity of earth and clay, assembling everyday objects made by potters from across India to create huge installations that convey hope, passion, and the journey and transience of life. Using just a few types of functional items—the diya lamp, the kullad (clay) tea cup, and the chillum smoking pipe—he succeeds in creating something contemporary yet timeless in its ability to tell a powerful story.
One of his larger pieces of particular interest to ceramics lovers is the pottery/architecture installation Excavations in Hymns of Clay.
VI. Prakash Bal Joshi
Mumbai-based designer, Prakash Bal Joshi’s paintings, ink-drawings, sketches and installations reflect a recurring theme—the transient nature of life and Nature itself. Joshi’s creations go beyond, what he calls the outer look of various animate and inanimate objects that populate this planet, and try to reveal the layers of subtle nature lying underneath their visual forms. Thus the buildings, streets, trees, bushes, lakes, rivers and myriad other objects he paints based on his impressions assume mystical aura about themselves. His ink or pen-on- paper sketches and drawings portray massive changes in the urban landscape brought on by development that reflect two self-contradictory movements —rise in material comforts and fall in values. Some of them show in subdued hues human emotions like love and disillusionment while a few others simply convey the complications of human mind through a series of mazes. They reflect deeper understanding of contemporary life in metropolis.
He feels a mysterious spiritual connect with rivers—something that seems to stem from his childhood tryst with swimming in a river which almost ended in his drowning. He evocatively uses river as a visual metaphor in his works to portray the flow of life, and the loss he feels when he thinks of many rivers that have been lost due to ravages of Time. His most enduring interest, bordering almost on obsession, is the disappearance of the mythical River Saraswati, on whose banks ancient sages are believed to have composed the great Vedas in India.
VII. Jalaludin Baba
Jalaludin Baba grew up in Adipora village, in north Kashmir’s Sopore, where he watched the Wular lake, one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia, drastically shrink over the years. The stagnation of the lake prompted Baba to dedicate himself to become an advocate for nature. He started making films in 2000, beginning with making documentary films on the major water bodies of Kashmir including Wular Lake, Dal Lake, and Manasbal Lake.
He won accolades across the globe for his independent film, Saving the Saviour, which focused on the scourge of plastic waste. It was later selected to be telecast on the world’s premier television network, the National Geographic Channel on World Cleanup Day this year.
VIII. Rahul Ram
Ram’s introduction to environmental activism started when he spent a few days at the Chipko and anti-Tehri dam activist Sunderlal Bahuguna’s home in Silyara in Tehri Garhwal. After this introduction with village-level environmentalism, he joined Kalpavriksh, a student action group and worked on issues in protected areas and a tannery cluster in Tamil Nadu. He obtained a PhD in environmental toxicology from Cornell University in the USA.
From 1990 to 1995 in the Narmada valley, working with the Narmada Bachao Andolan, Ram learnt about environmentalism in India from the bottom upwards.
Eventually, he started travelling between the Narmada valley and Delhi where he sang and played the guitar with a band (The Indian Ocean) to earn some money. Ram brought music from the Narmada valley into some of the songs of the band, for instance, Ma Rewa and Cheetu, thus heralding a confluence of music and environmentalism in the independent music scene of the country. Ma Rewa is a hymn to the Narmada river, while Cheetu, written by tribal poet Shankarbhai Tadavle, talks about the wrongs committed against the original denizens of the Narmada Valley.
Apart from his involvement with the Indian Ocean band, in more recent years Ram has teamed with two political commentators and stand-up comedians, Sanjay Rajoura and Varun Grover, to start Aisi Taisi Democracy.
One of the popular songs that Ram parodied for this group was on air pollution in New Delhi and other parts of the Indo-Gangetic Plains during winter. It talks of asthma and dust in the lungs and ends with policy inaction to prevent this recurring annual cycle.
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