Artist G. Prathapan's art works have shown the damage being done to the environment through the excessive use of plastic. His works were displayed at the Kaarisilta Biennale in Finland, the only Indian to be selected
Photos by K. Shijith
By Shevlin Sebastian
One evening, artist G. Prathapan went for a walk in the town of Mattancherry. After a while, he reached a river. He stood on the side and got into a ruminative mood. Suddenly, he saw a tiny movement on one side. The sleeve of a shirt which was floating in the water was moving. He edged closer to the water.
Prathapan realised something was struggling to break free inside the shirt. So, he took a long stick and began to pull at the shirt. It took a while before the shirt could be removed. And then he noticed the tortoise swimming purposefully away. “I felt so glad that I could free it,” says Prathapan, at the David Hall Art Gallery in Fort Kochi. “And it opened my eyes.”
When Prathapan looked around he was amazed to see a large number of plastic bottles and packets floating around. When he peered closer at the edge of the shore, he saw tiny fish floating inside condoms filled with water.
Prathapan felt disturbed. “Man was destroying the environment,” he says. Soon, he began doing drawings by pen. In one he has shown a seagull which has pushed his beak inside a plastic bottle to eat the fish but his neck gets stuck in the rim. In another, he has shown small fish swimming inside a condom. A tortoise’s head is also stuck inside a bottle.
Prathapan has also drawn an aquarium which contained fish and placed it by the side of the ocean. He then drew a blanket on top of the aquarium. “The fish are asking, ‘Where is the sea?’ They are trapped inside an artificial container made by man,” he says. “Are we doing right?”
When the Kaarisilta Biennale in Finland asked for entries, Prathapan sent these images. It was liked and he was selected. He was one among 197 artists who showcased their works, but the only one from India. Says Johanna Immeli, the curator of the Biennale, “The jury was very impressed by Prathapan's drawings. The subject matter of plastic waste is very important. It is a problem all over the world. This appears in the news often. Many visitors liked Prathapan's works. They stood and observed the drawings for a long time. It made them think, they told me later.”
For Prathapan it has been an exciting moment. “Usually, participation in most Biennales is by invitation only,” he says. “So I was glad that I got a break.”
This is his first international exposure. Prathapan is a full-time artist, who has participated in state and national solo and group exhibitions over the years. He has won a few state awards. But even though he has sold a few works, it has been difficult to make ends meet. “But art is my passion,” says the 41-year-old artist.
Meanwhile, Prathapan continued to do research on the Internet on plastic pollution. “I was shocked to realise that the plastic menace is a worldwide problem,” he says. “When you throw plastic into the rivers, it solidifies and forms a mountain under the sea. The amount of oxygen underwater becomes less. Many small fish are dying because of this.”
He made more discoveries. “If you throw plastic anywhere it ends up in the sea somehow,” he says. “So, please do not throw rubbish on the road or in your backyard.”
Prathapan is planning to focus on this subject for a while now. “We need to highlight the problem so that people become aware of how our planet is being destroyed,” he says.
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