Botanical art is having a moment. From Sabyasachi’s floral wallpaper to schools books replete with plant-inspired illustrations, botanicals are everywhere With Amitav Ghosh’s latest book, Gun Island, we urge you to judge the book by its cover design. The cobra, snaking around the title typeface, is a spitting image of the reptile and so are the sprays of flowers that appear on the cover. The artist is Bengaluru-based Nirupa Rao, who has gained fame for her botanical illustrations on Instagram and beyond. After the Gun Island cover, Penguin approached Rao to do the cover design, with more botanical art, for four of Ghosh’s old books – The Calcutta Chromosone, The Hungry Tide, The Circle of Reason and The Glass Palace – which the publisher was issuing again. Botanical art is having a moment, thanks to millennials and their fondness, not just to see, but to create illustrations of flowers, plants, fruits and even insects. It’s all over Pinterest and Instagram and it’s showing no sign of abating. From Sabyasachi’s floral wall paper to sarees to botanical prints on tea boxes, kettles, crockery and even school books, botanical illustrations are everywhere. There’s certainly a resurgence in botanical art. I think it’s because we’re losing a lot of our natural wealth and artists are trying to hold on to it – Nirupa Rao, botanical artist “There’s certainly a resurgence in botanical art. I think it’s because we’re losing a lot of our natural wealth and artists are trying to hold on to it,” says Rao. Botanical art traditionally stands at the intersection of art and science. It was used to document flora for scientists and for colonisers, to record species of plants in newly discovered territories and for doctors, to document medicinal plants and their uses. Rao has already illustrated a book on trees in the Western Ghats, written by Divya Mudappa and TR Shankar Raman, with additional sketches by Sartaj Ghuman, called Pillars of Life. She’s currently working on a book (for children and adults), on the fascinating plants in the Western Ghats, on a grant from National Geographic. She’s also collaborating with Dr Krithi Karanth of the Centre for Wildlife Studies, on a program called Wild Shaale — an educational curriculum using illustrations of plants and animals, specifically for children in rural areas adjoining wildlife parks. Nirupa Rao’s art While photography reduced the relevance and interest in botanical illustrations, the genre is so widespread to become insignificant, says Geetanjali Sachdev, Academic Dean, Post Graduate Programs, Srishti School of Art, Design & Technology. “Six years ago, I started noticing botanical motifs everywhere, especially in public spaces and in street art. In the kolam (rangoli), moldings on traditional homes, in window grille work, flowers like lotus on trucks and autos… Botanical art is seen in décor, religion, myth …” This led her to believe that the botanical art in educational programs must go beyond scientifically accurate plant portrayals to include plants in Indian cultural contexts. Sachdev is currently working on her PhD in Botanical Motifs in Art and Design in Public Spaces – Towards a Pedagogical Framework. Says Sachdev, “Botanical art has always been around us. All our stories of sages and from mythology, which shaped Indian imagination, happen in forests. Its resurgence today is clearly a need for sustainability and ecological preservation.” Ganapati Hegde’s name has become synonymous with botanical art. Says the artist, “Botanical art is a part of our puranas.” Hegde takes his inspiration from nature and transfers it on to his canvas with unrestrained fervour. With vivid splashes, he creates emerald leaves, flowers in paint box shades, tight buds in pastel hues and jewel-toned insects that flit around the canvas in happy harmony. Hegde is lucky that he grew up in the lush and abundantly green region of North Karnataka and Nature was and continues to be his forever muse. Nidhi Jacob, Ganapati Hegde’s work Botanicals have left their mark on fashion too. From high street brands to haute couture, designers are still sending out prints and embroidery with roses and foliage on dresses, sarees and Tees. Sounak Sen Barat, from the House of Three, hand painted flowers which were then digitally created into prints for his new collection, Sealdah Lucknow Express. “There is a subconscious drive among the entire human community to revive all the good things and practices of the past. Hand crafted, handmade, slow fashion, slow-cooked food… a revival of environment-friendly practices across the arts, music, culinary practices, architecture and every other walk of life.” Botanical art speaks to us more than ever before and it’s more than just a matter of aesthetics. There’s a deeper call here, an instinctive yearning to have something that’s in short supply, that’s fast depleting – lush green vegetation, flowers in abundance that you could reach out, touch, smell and feel. Let’s not make these a sepia-tinted memory.
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