Capturing beauty of islands

by Shilpa Raina
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After successful shows in Pune, Chennai and Goa last year, multifaceted Pankaj Sekhsarai’s exhibition titled, “Island Worlds… of land and sea” is currently mounted at the Art gallery, Kamaladevi Complex at India International Centre till August 2. A researcher, academician and writer, Pankaj is also the author of two novels – ‘The Last Wave’ and ‘Islands in Flux – the Andaman and Nicobar Story’. He has been working actively in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands for over two decades and has been documenting the change of its ecology and bio-diversity through photographs and research papers. In this travelling exhibition, he has reproduced images on silk, adding luminosity to them. In a candid talk with ACF, Pankaj recalls what led to his long-lasting association with the Islands and why he decided to reproduce them on silk.

Excerpts from the interview.
What ignited your interest in the Andaman and Nicobar islands?
I first traveled to the islands more than two decades ago at about the time I was finishing my graduate degree in engineering from Pune university. A very dear friend, Srikant, who was then in the Navy had a posting in Port Blair asked me to come over and I spent about two months travelling along the entire length of the islands – from Diglipur in the North to Indira Point in Great Nicobar Island which is the southernmost tip of India. So, that was a great experience, many memories of which are still imprinted strongly in my mind. That was the first time I saw a turtle nesting, in Great Nicobar Island, on the beach at the mouth of the Galathea River. I also had the opportunity of witnessing hatchlings of the Giant Leatherback turtle emerge from their nest and head back to the sea – I even have some pictures of that from then. So, the beauty of the place is quite captivating.

How you manage to wear multiple hats of a writer, photographer and a researcher with ease?
I have tried to integrate many aspects of my experiences and my interests. I became interested in communication and environment at about the same time and was clear early on that I would want to work in a space that offers an intersection of the two. And, as I went ahead I learnt new things, I had new experiences, new opportunities and new challenges. I think I took these on and that is how the journey has been varied and also very interesting for me. At another level, I feel it allows me to bring the learning and the experiences from one field and discipline into another and this inter-disciplinarily and cross-sectionality makes things very challenging, but exciting when it works!

Is there any point you are making through this exhibition?
The exhibition seeks to present the A&N islands and this it is composed, of course, of many dimensions – and not just the threats. I want to show the beauty of the place, the ecological richness, something about the human communities and changes that have taken place over the years, including some of the deforestation and destruction. I must also emphasise that this is a photo exhibition and is meant to be as much a creative exercise as it is anything else.
On what basis did you chose the best photographs from your vast collection for this exhibition?
The key element for choosing photographs was their visual quality – what visual experience will they offer a visitor to the exhibition. And the visual criteria itself was along multiple lines – some pictures are more abstract and graphically strong, there are others where the content is strong and the emphasis was less on the structure of the photograph. And there are others which emphasise the impact of human intervention.

What you decided to reproduce the photographs on silk?
Printing them on silk was some kind of an experiment as technology allows us today to do this quite nicely today. A few years ago I’d done another photo exhibition with the Hyderabad based NGO Dastkar Andhra that works with cotton handloom weavers in Andhra and Telangana. That was an exhibition of the entire handloom process (from cotton to fabric) that we printed on cotton handloom fabric. We wanted to see how it would work. We had a great response from those who came to see that exhibition. I have been for a long time wanting to exhibit my island pictures as well and silk seemed a good possibility because it offers a texture and a luster that, I thought, would do justice to the sharpness and striking colours one sees in the islands. And the experience with the earlier exhibition seemed to suggest the experiment would work. And the different types of fabrics used it also to see and experience how the visual experience changes with the nature of the material on which is it printed! The medium seems to be as important as the image itself!


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