PROFILE: Sucheta Ghadge/ Of Climate Crises and Riverine Muses / Sushma Sabnis
A river is a reliquary of time, place and lives which depend on it. An emotional entity, whatever it dissolves within its rapids, is returned flourishing, manyfold. Even as rivers across the globe are drying up without warning, artist Sucheta Ghadge follows her philanthropic muse to create her print works…writes Sushma Sabnis.
Rivers run through artist Sucheta Ghadge’s veins, especially when she is busy creating large scale wood cut prints or any other liberating art practice. An alumnus of the Sir JJ school of Art, Mumbai, Sucheta has a BFA in Painting and Printmaking and a MFA in Printmaking. Her affinity towards rivers began quite early in childhood, especially as she became attached to the Krishna river which flowed by her village. An irreplaceable dependence on the fertile black soil and the meditative waters has stimulated an oeuvre which has evolved around the turbulent subject of climate change, environmental damage, several mythological and personal narratives which emerge from them.
History bears witness to the riverine civilisations around the world which made it possible for industries like agriculture, metallurgy, construction, trade etc to escalate using interlinked river systems across terrains. A river born from the melt down of snow capped mountains, burgeons with an energy which branches as it flows downward to the sea. Hence rivers often are deemed to be temperamental in nature, picking up their influences along the way, cascading at times, or playful, nurturing, and some times raging, merciless and violent. Whatever description one chooses for a river, the exploitation by human interference is visible over centuries and the damages have begun to show. In recent times, the rivers of the world have steadily dried up due to unpredictable climate changes caused by reckless dependence on natural resources and environmental pollution. In her works titled, ‘Shifting Mountains – 1 and 2’ Sucheta brings forth a critique of how the mountains have repositioned, due to incessant drilling and shaving off to create roads, highways and habitable flat lands, thereby killing the natural trajectories of rivers.
When one observes the trajectory of a river, one is faced with the degradation and the absolute disregard for the interdependent ecosystems which the river generates, from flora to fauna to humans. As a result, a number of rivers have gone dry in most of the states, some at their source itself. Once flourishing and inspiring to poets, writers and artists, these inspiration laden subtle muses are throttled by humankind in the name of progress and growth. It all began when the notions of taming the river began to take place, when humankind began to redirect the natural flow of the rivers into the fields and farms, effecting its force and volume. The other damage, a major one happened when rivers became carrier networks for industrial wastes and effluents which eventually landed up at sea ruining the ecology thereon. The cyclical nature of degradation began with human hands and it is quite interesting to see Sucheta’s works address these aspects head on.
Having dabbled in a multitude of painting and printmaking techniques the artist as settled on the technique of woodcut printmaking. However laborious it may seem at first, the results speak for themselves. Taking a slightly personal narrative, that of her childhood memories and rivers further, the artist dives deep into a serious search for the root causes which plague all the rivers of our country today. Her findings get registered in prints which are eclectic in rendition and layered with multiple meanings.
In the earlier works, Sucheta focuses on the visual quality of the river, from its reflective ability to its transparency and its free flowing nature. In these works one finds the youthful understanding of a subject by an artist. Almost innocent in interpretation, these works could be called ‘romantic’ without the burden of romanticism. Reflecting the young river, the artist captures the zest of its flow and its vivacity. In the later works however, the realities and issues regarding rivers, humans and land surface. The truth about how a river’s journey through a land mass, dividing it into two, urges a possible claim of the fertile banks by humanity are looked at. The banks of a river ensures a prime piece of fertile land which could be used to serve one’s purposes, well-meaning or nefarious notwithstanding; hence the numerous battles across state and countries for ownership. A free flowing entity such as a river could then be contained by raising dams and reservoirs. It has been proven that dams and reservoirs are edifices erected for saving water to be used in lean months. But what happens when these rules are bent and water is siphoned off to be sold in tankers to drought prone areas at a price? Sucheta in her works,’Crossing Ways – 1 and 2’ tries to use the water reflection, refraction and topographical drawings of actual rivers being siphoned off. The crossing of pathways, which are not natural, but human made are evident in its grid like segregation over land.
All rivers play a major role in the dispersal of seeds by water pollination. Trees which empty their seeds into the rivers and on the banks of the rivers get carried across plains where new soil conditions are conducive to their growth. In such a scenario, it is important to note that rivers are nature’s couriers, ensuring diversity and spread of the flora far and wide. Taking this aspect, Sucheta in her works, ‘Floating Seeds-2’, ‘Stories – 1’ and ‘One River many Stories’ focuses on the flora, fauna and human dependence on river systems. In the works, ‘Stories-1’ the artist lines up numerous plant seeds which are transported to various places via the riverine courier. In ‘Floating Seeds-2’ one is reminded of the way these submerged seeds remain alive and in wait to reach their apt soil conditions to germinate. The reflecting parent plants captured and the river basin which carries the seeds are all shown in this aesthetically engaging work. In ‘One River many Stories’ the artist alludes to the river being a kind of a witness to the ongoings of life. Like a person looking through a window of a moving vehicle, witnessing, assimilating, yet detached, the river acts as a repository of stories of animate and the inanimate, unwittingly shaping them as it flows. Each river is a memory vault, a reliquary of all that was, is and will be. In the works ’Parcel of Land’ ‘Meandering rivers’, the artist presents the regenerative ability of a river, where the flow of a river could become slow or meandering while it manages to transport and wash the plants and soil off the banks, providing the nutrients there on to other areas. This subliminal philanthropy is brought about by the pace of the river and what ‘parcels’ it distributes thereon.
Taking the concept of livelihoods which depend on the riverine systems, Sucheta creates her works,’Major Shifts – 1 and 2’ specifically with the narratives of textile designing and dyeing industries which flourished for centuries. Most of them require river water or brackish water for fixing of natural dyes to threads and cloth. In her works, Sucheta addresses one specific textile design, Ajrakh, which has been revived in recent times after numerous efforts have been made to save the perishing block print. Practiced in Kutch region of Gujarat, Ajrakh has an impressive Egyptian and Indus Valley lineage, yet today it stands at precarious crossroads towards extinction. The series of seismic upheavals like earthquakes have changed the composition of the land and dried up the rivers which once were perfect for the Ajrakh technique.The cheaper option of chemical dyes open a pandora’s box polluting the environment further by inadequate disposal methods. Such irreversible situations have damaged the Saran river on which the dyers and printers relied. Sucheta uses the poetic words written for rivers, reminiscing the demise of a river and the snuffing out of all environment friendly dyeing techniques. She uses authentic ajrakh design imprint to lament the loss of a sustainable, cultural legacy to human greed.
In her fairly recent works, ‘We are not flowing alone’ and ‘Through the Mountains’ Sucheta ties in numerous analogies of the river to life itself. In doing so she opens up narratives which link to environmental issues and evolutionary events like plate tectonics, natural disasters which birth or annihilate rivers. In the works ‘Traces – 1’ an aquarium like enclosure holds a piece of a mountain range where the river basin has gone dry. This piece of land is displayed as if in a museum of lost history, along side the flora and fauna which flourished along the banks of the river basin and probably are extinct, however traces remain within the layers of the earth hidden away.
Numerous perspectives are derived from the entity of a river and Sucheta has managed to address the difficult ones regarding environment and climate change. The ones which she has yet to explore are the subliminal mythological and socio-political narratives. Cultural narratives would then come into play as a river is a dynamic entity and it has many faces and a mind of its own. The taming of the free spirited Ganga within the matted mane of Lord Shiva, is an interesting folk lore which has been propagated over time. However, in today’s times, this very story of curtailing a free-spirited feminine entity within the matted mane of the male entity, suggests the control of patriarchy over feminine agencies. It builds a socio-political upper hand against feminism and buckles the very concept of freedom. Hopefully the artist would dive into these psychological metaphors and intricacies of gender hierarchies in her future works using her riverine muse, for a river is but a watchful mirror of our selves and of our times.
Sucheta Ghadge lives and works in Banasthali, Rajasthan.
(Images courtesy – Sucheta Ghadge)