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Eco Views from a Wildlife Illustrator: Niranjan Nayak

Interviewed by Sanandita Chakraborty


Photo by Bitupan Kolong


What drew you to wildlife illustration as a medium of creative expression?


It was fairly situational. Though I'd have to say, it started during my college days at Digboi College. Our HOD of Zoology, Prof. Rajib Rudra Tariang, would ask us to accompany him to various wildlife walks, rescue programs and other forest research orientation programs as such. So that's where the wildlife part began for me. As for illustrations, I had developed a knack for it quite early on in my childhood. The aim was never wildlife though. But I think, just being in Sir's presence and working with him, I had learnt a lot. Then I gradually began to venture into other genres of art. Be it wall painting, or the illustrations of native species. This was different from what we were familiar with back in India. So I thought to myself, why not try my hand at this and see what I can cook up for myself?


Who are your inspirations from the wildlife illustration industry, and are there any particular artists that you follow?


I couldn't help but be connected with wildlife art. So when I got the opportunity to be associated with the Wildlife Trust of India, I jumped right into it. Besides, one of our teachers, Debarshi Gogoi, would illustrate digitally. As would another senior of ours, Subashis Arandhara and Nile Mahanta. I'd say they served as my inspirations as far as wildlife illustrations was concerned.


How do you strike a balance between artistic expression and delivering a conservation message through your art?


In 2020, when we were all quarantined at home, we could not go out and start with art projects. Moreover, we realized that there was a scarcity of paper. So when my own house was going under construction, I decided to practice some stone art on the walls, again, borrowing themes from wildlife. After I posted it on social media, UNICEF India had greatly appreciated it.


I decided to go forward with it. We would go foraging for stones either on roads or in reserved forest areas, and we took our paints and brushes with us. We also indulged in a healthy amount of bird watching while collecting the stones. Through these experiences, at our workshop, we then started to create realistic wildlife art. With wall painting, there is much more of a chance to engage the local people. With our teachers, we would begin with these awareness programs at first. The wall paintings then, as a result, would be a self-presentation of artistic expression and awareness.


Photo by Niranjan Nayak


Do you have a preferred technique or a style that you find effective in capturing the essence of a subject?


Till now in all of my conservation art, I’ve stuck with stone art the longest. Other than that, I recently got into scientific illustrations as well. We mostly use acrylics as our medium. I started doing water color again, you know going back to the basics. Besides, art from waste has been something we as a collective are striving to work on.


Have you ever experimented with any new techniques or mediums to bring a fresh perspective to your illustrations?


When you begin, you primarily begin with experiments. And that is with every field. I should say, I keep flirting with the idea of digital art, but prefer art by hand. However, you really cannot do away with technology in today’s day and age. Even though I have not explicitly shifted to digital art altogether, as an artist, you always end up using certain tools. And Photoshop always comes handy.


Have you ever collaborated with any scientists or researchers for your work? How did these collaborations influence or contribute to your illustrations?


I am currently associated with Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun under project Dolphin. Other collaborations have mostly been with different forest Departments of Assam and Arunachal. Or other forest trusts, like the WWF or the Wildlife Trust. I make regular visits to Dibru Saikhowa and Dihing Patkai. And have worked closely with Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary and the Kaziranga National Park for my illustrations. Plus, Aaranyak has always been there for support, and a lot of collboration has come from there.


How do you envision the evolution of wildlife illustration considering the current climate and the advancements in technology?


Personally I’ve never been a fan of digital advancements that is, of course, beyond a certain extent. And I find the over dependence on the same for our daily life troublesome too. I’m more concerned with preserving natural proponents, rather than going about it more artificially. So a lot of hand and clay work if you know what I mean. There are entire cities who have preserved ancient art forms from around the ancient civilizations. So why don’t we? That is something that fascinates me.


Photo by Sumit Das


How do you think wildlife illustration can contribute to the broader societal understanding of the natural world and the importance of protecting biodiversity?


Art is a universal language. It breaks all barriers and translates through. In the example that I I’d like to provide, during the coal mining protests in Dihing Patkai, we had made several illustrations of the white-winged wood duck. Which is the state bird of Assam, or of ailing elephants who in our drawings claimed Dihing to be their homes, and urged miners to not destroy their habitat. When this movement reached social media through various pleas, the Govt. of India went ahead and officially declared Dihing Patkai as a National Park in 2022. So, through the contribution of everybody, you realise conservation efforts are only so difficult, and depends variably on the consciousness of the people, for which art acts as the medium.



About the Interviewer:

Sanandita Chakraborty, is pursuing her Bachelor Degree in history at the Dept. of History, Hansraj College, University of Delhi. She has conducted this interview as part of her internship programme in Media Production & Communications Division of Aaranyak.

You can reach her at 143priyom@gmail.com




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