There’s a large garden in George Fernandez’s house in Thiruvananthapuram. On bad days he’d go and stand there, among his plants, and would feel a lot better. Even among the exhibits of plants and pieces of wood he has placed at a hall in the city, George, with his familiar head of white hair and soft voice, looks calm and peaceful.
He is an artist, pretty well known among the art lovers of the city. George is teacher to many, and has quietly conducted his art exhibitions with his natural colours sometimes on a street and other times at venues as these. The newest called ‘Serenity versus Terror’ that began on World Environment Day is at the Lenin Balavadi Hall. What attracts you first is a small coffin he has kept in the middle, with a plant inside. “That’s about deforestation. When a house near mine was sold, they also gave away a plot that was full of trees. All those trees were cut down. The woodpeckers and owls that used to come there never came again,” George says sadly.
It is real wood that he has kept. Not just in the coffin, but another exhibit next to which he sits. On a board, he has spread some mud and fixed pieces of wood in it, that looks like the remains of cut trees. There are little black clay figures of humans near the cut trees, hugging them or else falling down on the ground, crying. “Nature and man are that close. The way I can relax in ten minutes when I stand next to my plants – that’s how I realised how connected we are to them,” George says in his melancholic voice.
He had conducted a similar exhibition in March, but not with so many exhibits. “That was a time I had some bad experiences after having fruits sold at a market. I’d ended up at the General Hospital once, with headache and vomiting, after having an orange juice, that had tasted really well but, as I later discovered, was made from poisoned fruit,” George says. By poisoned he means the pesticide infected fruits that are imported to Kerala – a problem that’s long bothered the state and prompted the authorities to encourage organic farming. “Apples too, I have once discovered wax coating on them -- used to make it shine on the outside,” George says.
There is in a corner, an exhibit of actual fruits that George has kept, with needles injected on each of them, symbolic of the ‘poisoning’ they go through. With squirrels creeping in to eat his exhibits in the night, George has now covered them with a net.
On another corner is yet another net – but that has plastic waste in addition to replicas of fish George has made with clay. “There have been many stories of the amount of plastic waste that you get out of the sea, much more than the fish you go out to catch.” There is also an exhibit of a fish made of clay with plastic waste inside it, based on another newspaper story that had shocked George.
He has not kept an exhibit for this but George shares another incident that’s troubled him. “Small birds and butterflies used to come to my garden which is full of fruits and plants. But one day, they put up six mobile towers nearby and the birds and the butterflies stopped coming. And then,” George adds with a little smile, “somehow, four towers stopped working. The birds and the butterflies were back again.”
George has stuck little pieces of information and messages next to his exhibits so it would help the children visiting the exhibition to understand better, the condition of Mother Earth. In a shelf, he has kept bottles of coloured water, depicting the soft drinks that children have. “Soft drinks and tinned food -- those are so unhealthy. But children seem to grasp these things better than I expected. They read the messages I wrote of protecting nature and spoke to me about it very knowledgeably.”
Animals suffocating without space in the little cages they are put, are another reality George calls your attention to. A stuffed dog in a little dog shelter, a clay fish in an itsy-bitsy tank, birds in a tiny nest – all signify the ‘tormented souls’ George feels pained by. Tormented souls also include humans without smiles, looking out of the cardboard high-rises George has set up on a stool.
He has also kept his usual bunch of calm looking paintings on one side, but there is also a different set, with louder colours on the other side. “Serenity – of nature – with soft colours, and terror – of harming nature – with strong colours,” George explains.