The place the wild issues are
Wildlife illustrator Rohan Chakravarty on mapping the city’s unique biodiversity
If you’re a social media junkie – who isn’t these days – you’ve probably seen the Mumbai biodiversity map that made the rounds. The richly illustrated map shows the city’s unique biodiversity and shows everything from its diverse flora and fauna to its wetlands, mangroves and nature trails to its oldest indigenous communities. The cartographic art was unveiled by the Mumbai Ministry of Magic, a collective aimed at raising awareness of the city’s environment, and created by well-known wildlife illustrator Rohan Chakravarty.
“I usually prefer first hand research, but I couldn’t travel to Mumbai because of the pandemic. I worked on the information that was shared by various scientists, family members and friends, ”says the 33-year-old, a pioneer in illustration of nature in India. Chakravarty is known for his funny and popular cartoon series “Green Humor”, which raises awareness for the environment and its non-human inhabitants. The best compliment he’s received for his work is Emmywinning photographer and conservationist Belinda Wright. “She told me that there are many like her, but only one like me. I don’t think I’m worthy of that award, but I’m trying to live up to it, ”he says, adding that he’s been heavily influenced by the work of Genndy Tartakovsky, the animator who founded Dexter’s Laboratory and the Tribute was paid to his art style in his book Bird Business. In an interview with Mirror, Chakravarty talks about his art.
► You switched from dentistry to nature illustration. How did this happen?
Growing up in Nagpur, I never saw art as a career option, and although I had no interest in medicine as a career, I followed in my colleagues’ footsteps and ended up in dentistry. But the course was so frustrating that I was forced to consider other options. As a child, I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandfather, who came from a hunting family. So he would spoil me with lots of stories about animals. But when I turned 19, I got really interested in the biological aspect of nature and conservation, and I started volunteering for Kids for Tigers, an awareness initiative for Sanctuary Asia that took children on nature trails. That’s when I started to learn something about nature. On the other hand, I always had a symbiotic relationship with art – I was never a good student and I could only remember things when I drew them. So it all came together when I started working on wildlife comics.
► You have been making illustrations about wildlife for over a decade. How has the scientific arts field in India grown since you started?
It has evolved by leaps and bounds. When I started there wasn’t a lot of creative communication in this area. Natural art was largely limited to the fine arts. Gradually, however, different styles of creativity have emerged with regard to the attractiveness of the information. My own art has taken on new forms. I started with cartoons and comics. Now I’ve moved on to shorter stories, books, and illustrations that initiate conversations about the environment and wildlife.
► Guides us through your work. How is your process
It is really very random. I work with any creature that gets my attention. It could even be a documentary that I saw or a book that I came across. I like to get information from nature trails. I want to find out not only about the fauna of a place, but also about its geography and how the people who live there interact with the environment. All of this affects my work. For example, I was in Nagpur during the lockdown and confined myself to my backyard. I discovered a lot about insects and garden reptiles. I’d neglected them in favor of bigger and more charismatic animals and birds, but the lockdown opened my eyes. I didn’t know that much about the creatures I share my immediate surroundings with! I have documented my observations in a series entitled “Home Biodiversity”.