Echoing Nature’s Cry Through Art: Sarika Bajaj’s Feather-Inspired Exhibit in Mumbai

In the bustling metropolis of Mumbai, serene parks, dilapidated structures, and the corners of streets where birds converge to peck at proffered seeds play host to an artist with a unique calling. Sarika Bajaj, a peripatetic creator based in Bandra, gathers the fallen plumage of these avian denizens, employing them not just as instruments for her creative endeavors but also as poignant symbols to voice ecological concerns.

For close to twelve years, Sarika has been weaving these natural discards into her artistic practices. Her recent exhibition, entitled “Requiem,” can be witnessed at Anupa Mehta Contemporary Art in Colaba from March 14. This display reveals the depth and diversity of her work, encompassing two tapestries, a collection of photographs, a singular sculpture, a garment designed for performance art, and an evocative performance art video.

Childhood instances of feeding birds planted the seeds of fondness for these creatures, which matured into a contemplative understanding of the effects of urbanization on their existence. Diving deep into cultural symbolism, the ecological niches of birds, and their dwindling habitats enriched Sarika’s artistic narrative, imbued with the essence of the interplay between humans and nature.

Securing enough feathers is an exhaustive endeavor, the accumulation of which stretches over years. Even more rigorous is their preservation. Painstakingly, Sarika sifts quills from vanes, then employs a mix of boric powder treatment, freezing, hydrogen peroxide washes, followed by drying—a meticulous process to ensure the feathers are ready for transformation. Then, with precision, she trims the quill.

Amid the stillness imposed by pandemic years, Sarika found solace and creativity in constructing elaborate tapestries, examples of which – “Remains” and “Remnants” – are now featured in “Requiem”. Fashioned on a base of jute, she anchors numerous quill bundles with vibrantly colored threads. This repeated ritual, which she describes as “meditative,” requires thousands of quills for the construction of a single tapestry. At times, when feathers are scarce, her resourcefulness leads her to incorporate alternate materials, such as ropes, into her creations.

The central piece, a hoop-like sculpture from which the exhibition draws its title, is the culmination of years of work. Crafted from fabric, rope, and threads, “Requiem” embodies the themes of silence, loss, and the empty spaces left behind. Sarika’s artwork dares the audience to confront the reconciliation process between what is irretrievably lost and what remains.

Complementing the physical artworks is her performance art video titled “Passage,” filmed by Kalpit Gaonkar. The video is a visual extension of her integration with her art and surrounding milieu, showcasing Sarika swathed in two tapestries. Additionally, a series of photographs, also captured by Gaonkar, documents her performance, depicting her as a wanderer in abstract landscapes, provoking introspection on existence.

Sarika acknowledges that while art may not singlehandedly instigate change, its power to raise consciousness cannot be underestimated. As she delves internally, she hopes her audience will also engage in self-reflection, facing uneasy questions about our collective environmental responsibility.

The artworks available at “Requiem” bear price tags upward of ₹15 lakh, excluding taxes. This engagement with environmental discourse through art is open for public viewing until the end of April.

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