Unevenly cut leather straps of different colours, the kitschy jute prints on bags of rice and atta, and plastic bags moulded into a canvas are the kind of materials that Delhi-based artist and environmentalist Anita Ahuja works with. Founder of the NGO Conserve India, Ahuja uses waste materials such as plastic bags, tire tubes, bottles and their top caps, to make installations and art works. “I call it up scaling, and not re-cycling. It’s my way of connecting with strangers,” says Ahuja.
Her exhibition titled, “At War With the Obvious” exhibits close to 20 such artworks, along with handbags and floor mats, which are on sale.
With the help of 300 rag-pickers from the city, the waste material is collected in Bahardurgarh in the NCR region, and then used for making products and artwork at the NGO. The first artwork that catches our eye is a blue, shiny, plastic-coated frame of a collage of paper clippings. Called India Nowadays, this is Ahuja’s way of portraying the current media dominance. The artwork was made by colour-washing the plastic bags to a point where they are malleable. At Nightfall is a silhouetted take on nightfall, made of different colours of leather strips, on which you can still see the brown/ black stains from being on the roads for long. “Well-organised waste can be as resourceful as paint and paper. They are no longer just garbage mountains,” says Ahuja.
She pays her ode to the age of consumerism in Cosmopolitan, which is a kaleidoscopic canvas of steel bottle caps. “The inspiration for this artwork comes from an image I saw in Time magazine. It was a satellite photo of the consumption of electricity on Earth. Everything looked like small, sparkly stars, and these bottle caps give the same affect,” says Ahuja.
Unity in Diversity is a patchy, cloth and jute canvas with front covers of bags of atta and rice. The colours are loud, with no sense of structure. “Waste mountains are discharged in large numbers everyday. In Delhi itself, we have a plastic avalanche of around 8,000 tonnes. My artwork tries to raise a core issue: How to organise and put some order in this immense, messy chaos,” she adds.
Through her NGO, Ahuja has been exporting artwork for 6-7 years. They have an upcoming show at the Nehru Centre in London, in June.
“At War With The Obvious” is on display at the India International Centre, Lodhi Estate, till April 17.