Desert is a Forest by Sunoj D and Namrata Neog is the third Artist’s Garden commission at Jameel Arts Centre. Alongside the Jameel’s seven gardens designed by Anouk Vogel is a plot reserved for artists to cultivate and experiment, via an annual commission.
Sunoj D and Namrata Neog’s intervention begins with the prompt of how to “think like a forest”. Attempting to see through the UAE landscape, this work asks what kinds of negotiations, relationships and hierarchies emerge and submerge if we imagine the desert to be a forest?
The garden, as envisioned at the Jameel Arts Centre, in a way translates this idea, exploring the biodiversity within the UAE landscape, and the interconnectedness of the goat, the human, the plant and the natural mineral deposits that form in the desert.
The garden includes a selection of plants, indigenous to the UAE that are/were traditionally consumed both by humans and goats or used for medicinal purposes. Most of the plants selected for the garden grow naturally in the wilderness, often mistaken as weeds, and in areas where goats graze. Over the years, some plant species have increased in numbers due to the domestication of the goat, resulting in farmers and goat herders growing a larger quantity of plants to feed the goats, and other plants have become scarcer as animal grazing increased and environmental conditions shifted. The Artist’s Garden is also inhabited by mineral deposits or ‘mineral licks’, which often form on the surface of stones or pools of water, becoming spaces that attract animals, plants and humans for their essential mineral nutrients.
A garden of complex entanglements, Desert is a Forest examines the politics of food, domestication, relationships between humans and non-humans, and the way we see and interpret the environment, while also telling the unique history of the UAE’s plant ecology and nutritional habits.
Lakshmi Nivas is an interdisciplinary space in Parudur, Kerala, India, founded by Namrata Neog and Sunoj D in 2018. Lakshmi Nivas’ projects mainly emerge as interventions through the philosophy of how to think like a forest. These collaborative interventions tend to be artistic and anthropological, and involve conservation and experiments in food.
Sunoj D (lives and works in Parudur, Kerala) is a contemporary visual artist. He graduated in painting from Chitra Kala Parishad, Bangalore and with a post-graduate degree in Printmaking from Bangalore University. His works are a reflection on the politics and fluidity of meanings in materials, stemming from a critical engagement with the landscape and the myriad relations that shape it. His selected solo exhibitions include: Today—Yesterday’s Future Tense, Zilberman Gallery (Istanbul, 2018); Romanticized Objects From Drunken Nights, Exhibit 320 (New Delhi, 2016); A Forgotten Carpentry Lesson and a Love Song, Gallery SKE (Bangalore, 2013); Between Land and Sky, Grosvenor Vadehra (London, 2009). He was part of Vent des forêts (France, 2017); Nakivubo Food Forest Project (Uganda, 2015); Whorled Explorations, Kochi-Muziris Biennale (2014); A.i.R Dubai (2014); Natural History Museum (London, 2012); When you watch them grow…, National Museum of Natural History (New Delhi, 2012); and A.i.R Gasworks (London, 2012). Sunoj was awarded the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, 2019.
Namrata Neog (lives and works in Parudur, Kerala) is trained in history, archaeology and anthropology from Delhi University, India and Cardiff University, UK. Her work revolves around inquisitions of human/non-human negotiations in the landscape and the politics of seeing. She was the recipient of the Cyril Fox Award, Cardiff University, which supported her archaeological/anthropological research work in Serbia, 2013-14. She was previously a researcher at the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre at the Museum of London (2013); the Institute for Archaeology (London, 2012-15) and the National Museum (Belgrade, 2013-14). Some of her published works include the co-edited book See-Saw-Scene (Ministry of Culture, India, 2017); Speak Up! Social Awakening in India (Germany, 2013); and a contribution to Himalayan Bridge (India, 2015).
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