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Arunkumar’s Biennale Work Examines how Urban Expansion Takes Toll on Ecology

In Kochi
March 25, 2019

Artist Arunkumar H G goes by nuggets of rustic wisdom he could gather during childhood in a verdant belt to map the complex relationship between various ecological issues. His work at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale throws light on “wasteful” urban industrial mode of thinking and on how it impacts his life today as a city-dweller.

At the sea-facing Aspinwall House of the 108-day festival concluding this week, the work explores the high stakes of urbanism. Titled ‘Con-struction I’ and ‘Con-struction II’, the series on display represents present-day urban generation caught between contradictory landscapes. The resultant tension is what the artist addresses through his practice.

Arunkumar studied art from Baroda’s famed MS University and went on to work in an industrial firm in the National Capital Region. Even so, he regularly practises art. “This routine has put me into a situation where I address the relationship between these two ends,” says the 50-year-old from central Karnataka’s scenic Shimoga district.

Arunkumar recycles industrial waste to reclaim it and rework on. He especially uses packaging wood from scrapyards, to not only come out with comments on environmental issues, but indicate a rebirth for the material. “Con-struction I and Con-struction II stress on the prefix ‘con’ to point to the deception in the developmental model,” shares the artist, who, as an extension of his ecology-based practice, recently set up a Centre for Knowledge and Environment back in his native land. Set up under the organisation SARA (Sustainable Alternatives for Rural Accord) in his hometown of Dombekoppa, it seeks to share and learn from local and global discourses on sustainable living.

His large and hollow anthropomorphic figures represent how urbanisaton is completely taking over mankind and how people are getting used to a concrete-jungle life. Con-struction II exemplifies the idea of encroachment through the creation of a writhing figure, defencelessly sheathed in a pillory of concrete. He uses branches of felled peepal and neem trees found at a Delhi Metro rail construction site to show the concrete human figure’s arterial networks.

“The idea is to bring in the connection between nature and us human beings. And, how everything is turning concrete,” he says. “Through my works that employ real-use materials, I try to deal with the complex relationship of industry, urbanisation and its effects on ecology and people.”

Arunkumar is also showcasing a series of photographs titled ‘Vulnerable Guardians’. Therein, his lens captures small-scale farmers who were affected by the current agrarian crisis — largely owing to genetic modification of seeds and monopoly farming. “The series showcases how these farmers are forced to migrate to cities and find odd jobs, often as security guards, to support the families they have left behind in the village,” he notes. These digitally printed portraits on reclaimed wood position them as imperilled, lost guardians of ecology.