Magic from waste: Meet the artist who makes enchanting artworks out of cloth scraps

Medha Bhatt recently held an exhibition showcasing her artworks titled ‘My Whistling School Boy and Other Friends’ in Thiruvananthapuram.
Magic from waste: Meet the artist who makes enchanting artworks out of cloth scraps
Magic from waste: Meet the artist who makes enchanting artworks out of cloth scraps
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When creating an artwork, artist Medha Bhatt puts three things together – art, science and waste. Medha creates images of flora and fauna on canvases she makes from old bits of clothes and using materials made from recycling waste. A passionate environmentalist who works on zero waste initiatives, what Medha does is nothing short of magic – making art out of waste.

The 41-year-old, who graduated from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, recently held an exhibition showcasing her sketches and artworks titled ‘My Whistling School Boy and Other Friends’ at the Lemon Yellow Gallery, Thiruvananthapuram.

Medha’s artworks consist of representations of the birds she has seen in the Western Ghats and the Himalayas. Among the birds is the Malabar whistling thrush, also known as the ‘whistling school boy’ for its calls that sound like a little boy whistling. The title for the exhibition, which concluded on Saturday, is also based on this bird.

Zero waste initiatives

Medha, who currently lives in Vadodara in Gujarat, was a resident of Thiruvananthapuram for 12 years from 2002 to 2014. She worked with Thanal, an NGO that is involved in environmental friendly, zero waste initiatives.

“In Gujarat, recycling waste is in our tradition, like making quilts. I had also done a research project in Kutch near the Pakistan border. There was no water, very few basic facilities and people were poor, but they were making beautiful wall hangings out of old clothes. I named my project Gardens of Rann. After I came to Thiruvananthapuram, I saw Thanal was involved in zero waste initiatives and I joined them. There I learnt the science and philosophy behind zero waste,” Medha says.

The knowledge she gained about zero waste encouraged Medha take a step forward. She began to train women on making various products from waste.

“We used to collect fabric waste from beaches and make products like wall hangings out of that. My attempt was to inculcate a passion in them rather than say, simply training them in bag making,” she explains.

After a while, people started to tell Medha: ‘there is waste at my home, can you come and collect’.

“Waste materials are usually dirty, dusty, crumpled; sometimes even cockroaches are found inside them. But the art that can be created out of it is magical. After the Vilappilsala issue, the locals started protesting against the waste being brought to the treatment plant there from the city. And treating waste turned out to be a big issue in the city. Then I began thinking more functionally about it,” she says.

Medha observes, “How we deal with old clothes has changed altogether. People throw away clothes when they are bored of them, when there is no space in their cupboards, or after using an outfit for just a year.”

The artist later set up a club for children in the city to teach them about eco-friendly waste treatment because she learnt the hard way that teaching adults is more difficult. At the club, she would use examples such as how birds are needed for ecological balance and how the irrational acts of human beings can disturb this delicate balance. The fact that the bird population is depleting also worries her.

‘Exhibition is a tribute to friends’

Medha returned to her home town Vadodara three years ago and has been engaged in similar activities there. She calls Thiruvananthapuram her second home. The exhibition, she says, was held here as a tribute to her friends in the city who all stand for similar causes.

“This is the first time I have displayed sketches. Normally I show finished products. For sketching birds, I would catch a glimpse of them whenever I travel to the forest… they would fly away even before I can take a picture. I would keep an image in mind, come back and learn about the birds I saw and then begin sketching them. I am keen that every proportion and each feather should match the original. It should be so accurate that a birdwatcher should be able to identify any bird from my sketch,” Medha explains.

The labour involved is huge; sometimes after finishing one portion of a sketch, she needs to wait for months to get the apt material to sketch the rest of it. 

“Through my works I combine art, science and waste together to make a product. I am trying to communicate through my art. This is something made from waste, that too nature friendly. If we buy less, use less, we would be able to appreciate nature.”

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