How An Exhibit In Chennai Is Fusing Art & Science To Raise Ocean Conservation Awareness

Sculptor P Madhukar's series of ghost crabs made with upcycled metal and is titled Ghost in the Shell.
Sculptor P Madhukar's series of ghost crabs made with upcycled metal and is titled Ghost in the Shell.Dakshina Chitra Museum

Oceans are vast, vibrant worlds teeming with life and have been a source of wonder and sustenance for millennia. But beneath the sparkling surface lurks a growing crisis, one that The Living Ocean exhibition in Chennai compels us to confront. This hybrid art experience isn't just a visual feast; it's a wake-up call delivered through a captivating blend of art, science, and storytelling.

Imagine entering a space filled with the rhythmic roar of waves. This immersive soundscape sets the stage for The Living Ocean, where visitors embark on a journey that's both beautiful and thought-provoking. The exhibition unfolds across four rooms, each one a treasure trove of information and artistic expression. It transcends the boundaries of a traditional exhibition and finds itself at the sweet spot of being both like a museum exhibit and a contemporary art exhibition. It seamlessly blends art installations, films, and infographics, all meticulously crafted to maximize impact.

Artist Parvathi Nayar, the curator of this exhibition, was inspired to create this show after five years of documenting the daily rituals of S Palayam, a Chennai fisherman who meticulously records wind, wave, and ocean data. Palayam's observations, while not couched in scientific terms, paint a clear picture: the ocean is changing. Her documentation culminated in the form of a short film titled Seaspeaker, which is also going to be showcased at the exhibition. The film serves as a poignant reminder of the vital and organic knowledge held by those who work closest with the sea.

Parvathi Nayar
Parvathi NayarThe Hindu
Fish puppets from the film ‘Seaspeaker’
Fish puppets from the film ‘Seaspeaker’ Parvathi Nayar
A still from the film  ‘Seaspeaker’
A still from the film ‘Seaspeaker’Indian Express
Sculptor P Madhukar's series of ghost crabs made with upcycled metal and is titled Ghost in the Shell.
Photoseries 'In Conversation With Kadal' Is A Visual Poem To The Sea & The Emotions It Elicits

"It’s got some of my artwork, my film on Palayam, whom I am also inviting to do an installation of fishing nets and his tools of trade. This is not a contemporary art show, though one of the threads of the show is contemporary art. Almost all the exhibits have been specially created for the show, and they all talk to each other. For example, a story about going fishing for Kola (flying fish) in the film Seaspeaker finds resonance in (the reprint) a watercolour painted in Chennai by Englishwoman Mary Symonds during colonial times. Then, Hashtag#Collective (an art collective) is doing an installation of lenticular work of endangered coastal birds from South India, the photographs for which come from Rajiv Kalmadi, a bird photographer. The installation is called 'Hope is a Thing With Feathers'. As you walk around this installation, the birds appear and disappear! There are two sound installations by Madhu Viswanathan, one of them is 'Birdsong', featuring bird calls from the greater coastal area of Chennai."

Parvathi Nayar, in an interview with the Indian Express

Fish painting by Mary Symonds
Fish painting by Mary SymondsIndian Express
Installation: Hope is a Thing With Feathers
Installation: Hope is a Thing With FeathersIndian Express

However, The Living Ocean isn't just about highlighting the maritime problems; it's also about forging solutions. A unique data installation, created through conversations about ocean awareness, compels visitors to contemplate the vital role the ocean plays in sustaining life on Earth. Another section, Gardens of Our Times, offers a visual testament to ecological restoration efforts. And for those seeking inspiration, the exhibition celebrates the work of marine biologists like Sylvia Earle and local conservationists who are actively making a difference.

A powerful six-panel infographic, titled The Ocean Is Feeling the Heat, delivers a stark yet necessary message about the environmental threats the ocean faces. Created by Nayar and graphic designer V S Sindhura, it's not a harbinger of despair; it's a call to action. Also, on display is sculptor P Madhukar's series of ghost crabs made with upcycled metal and is titled Ghost in the Shell (photo on the cover).

Installation: Ocean’s Breath
Installation: Ocean’s BreathIndian Express
Installation: Ocean’s Breath
Installation: Ocean’s BreathThe Hindu

This is a permanent exhibit and so you can visit anytime. Experience it for yourself and be awestruck by the ocean's beauty, to understand and educate yourself about the existential threats it faces, and be inspired to become part of the solution.

The Living Ocean

On view from: April 13, 3 pm onwards

Price: Rs 150 (weekdays) & Rs 175 (on weekends)

Venue: Moplah House, Dakshina Chitra Museum