Varunika Saraf

Natural history drawings are entrenched in the scientific enterprise of observing and illustrating subjects found in nature. The discipline of Natural history strives to capture both the archetypal and the rare, it belongs to an encyclopaedic tradition that discovers, observes, describes to classify and order. Its history is inextricably intertwined with colonial enterprise, scientific innovation and global expansion. It is a tradition that presupposes scientific objectivity and rationality. But, is it possible to collect and then describe something objectively with detachment? Do our feelings shape the way we represent objects? Are the objects not transformed by our emotions and interpretation? And, conversely, are we not changed by what we observe and render?

Low tide is a series of watercolors that depict objects – broken shells, bleached corals, wave-washed pebbles, and porous limestones fused with bones and other aquatic remains, left behind by retreating tides. This series, though it draws upon the language of Natural history illustrations, does not represent perfect examples of any genus. These watercolors are studies of debris, mutilated and transformed, marred by the same passage of time that weighed heavily on me. These images are not colored simply by the rich pigments ground to fine dust in a mortar and pestle, but also by the
overwhelming feeling of pain and loneliness. These works were created amidst personal loss, isolation and uncertainty, and are therefore inscribed by mourning and a longing to relate to something beyond my immediate circumstances. They are an attempt to hold on to the essence of things before it fades. These watercolors are painted in memory of all those loved whose absence slowly corrodes the recesses of our heart with the hope that someday we will be reunited on a sandy shore sheltered from time.

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