Installation view of Residue, photographs and hand-made serigraphs on wood, plexiglass and acrylic sheets, 2017

Devastation was writ large across Sonia Mehra Chawla's sepia-toned depictions of parched tracts. Scorched Earth and withered stumps of trees marked the desolate landscapes featured in Residue I and Residue II, and were mute witnesses to an unfolding ecological disaster. Straddling the wall and laid on the floor, the large scale photographs and hand made serigraphs on wood, plexiglass and acrylic sheets reminded visitors of T.S.Eliot’s The Waste Land, which describes ‘dead trees’ that give no shelter and 'dry stones’ with 'no sound of water'.

Showcased earlier at the Yinchuan Biennale, The Residue series is a part of Mehra Chawla's ongoing Critical Membrane project on view at New Delhi's Exhibit 320 from the 26th of November to the 7th of February 2017. Supported by the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, the artist has been researching the fragile mangrove ecosystems in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The word 'membrane' in the title alludes to these coastal swamps as sensitive partitions between land and sea. These special habitats play a significant role in the prevention of soil erosion and by highlighting their depletion and destruction, the artist interrogates our skewed notion of progress.

The Universe in Details series took a microscopic view of things in its exploration of the role of microbes in mangroves in mangrove ecosystems. In the set of digital prints, the globe appeared to have been reduced to a petridish, in which microbial activity spawned wondrous worlds. Set against a jet-black background, these fluorescent forms offered arresting organic patterns.

Elsewhere, a cellular view of the world offered another take on the word 'membrane'. Using light microscopy, the artist showed enlarged views of the cross-sections of stems and other parts. The membranes of cells were thrown into sharp relief revealing the delineation between the various layers. By zooming in, the artist managed to transform clumps of cells into abstract vistas and gaping cavities.

Critical Membrane served as a reminder of the human interconnectedness with the environment and the dire side-effects the relentless pursuit of economic growth could have on it.

Excerpts from 'Waste Lands', published in the June-July 2017 issue of Art India- 'Anthology Of Exhibitions' (Volume XXI, issue II, Quarter II, 2017)
The Waste Land

by T.S. Eliot

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
(Excerpts )

© sonia mehra chawla