People perceive the environment and the need for its conservation differently. This difference is driven by social, economic, and political factors. A person’s relationship with the nature around them defines their desire to protect the same. These three panels of art are inspired by a tribal community from India called Warli. The Warli tribe is believed to be one of the largest and oldest indigenous communities in India. Mapped to the state of Maharashtra geographically, they are best known for their extremely unique style of art named after the tribe. Although the art and the tribe are widely popular across India, their recognition outside the national border has been minimal. Historically, people from the Warli community valued and were deeply connected with the natural world. Their artforms reflected their relationship and respect for nature from whom they received resources and depended on for survival. Warli paintings, while simplistic in style, paints the complex and crucial dependencies of mankind on natural resources. As per popular belief, these paintings were a tribute and a gesture of love to the natural world that human life is intertwined with. This observation can be extended to indigenous and tribal communities across the world. Additionally, it goes to show how important it is for us to gather traditional knowledge to inform our work and how we live our everyday lives.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to interact with various indigenous community members from India, Kenya, and North America. The most valuable lesson I took away with me each time, a lesson I have tried to portray through these panels, is that of man’s attitude towards nature. In 2020, to reverse the damage we have done to the environment and the disproportionately affected people, we must realize our connections with nature. Sitting in concrete buildings, in cities with sparse greenery, this is a challenging task. With deadlines, loans, pandemics, injustice, and a myriad of issues that affect us today, it can be extremely difficult to care about something that feels so far away. Therein lies our biggest issue, I daresay. Our disconnectedness from the environment, in the grand scheme of things, adds fuel to the fires of the world. It doesn’t have to be this way. With a touch of humility and acceptance (that the state of nature defines our survival), a dash of realization and understanding (that the health of the natural world is connected to human health), with respect for traditional knowledge and lots of communication, we can turn things around. Live and let live, it’s time to allow that to extend to the trees, to the wildflowers, to the rivers, and to the indigenous people; for it is these connections that shall make us or break us.
By Varsha Suresh
Varsha Suresh is a conservation biologist and illustrator currently based in Washington D.C. Her love for wildlife and nature began at home in the Western Ghats and drives her work of enabling environmental conservation. As an artist, Varsha finds immense joy in using the medium to share her understanding of the natural world, hoping that others feel the same way she does. Being a lover of plants, her home is a testament to the jungles. Free time for Varsha translates to catching up on speculative fiction books, short films, and lots of laksa!