Citizen Trees of Delhi – Voice of Artist Kate Bowen Can We Save Trees of Delhi? By Dr. Navina Jafa (follow: @navinajafa )


Imagine being here ‘Now’ is a title I offer up for advance publication when I have no idea yet what I’ll talk about, but also because I enjoy the paradox. Why would we have to imagine a place if we are right here now? Because we’re always doing it because every day we imagine and then live a version of our new stories, our histories, which we then disseminate through friends and families. ‘Imagine’, John Lenon exhorted us. And artist David Wojnarowicz said in the 1980s, “I’m beginning to think that one of the last frontiers for radical gestures in the imagination.”   

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Trees & Environment Concern: Case of Delhi: Environmentalists all over the world are talking about the vital role of trees in the world’s ecosystems. Citizens of Delhi, the capital of India and one of the most polluted city struggles against the narrative of ‘development’ comprising of construction of a wide range of urban dwellings, broadening roads, flyovers and much more. Each action presently seems to be unbalanced considering long term sustainable factors; such that the holistic parameters of these ‘development’ initiatives seem to be more as under-development than development. The pressure groups engaged in the narrative of pushing such ‘development’ seek to counter the voices of citizen groups and environmentalists.  Within this framework, the recent work of Kate Bowen a British artist who created a series of paintings on Trees of Delhi is a fascinating artistic response to the critique. The paintings were a part of a group exhibition at Sangeeta Gupta’s Prithvi Fine Art and Culture Centre, Delhi in January.



Kate, who moved to Delhi just about a year ago found herself amidst issues of air pollution, and the cutting of large, old trees of Delhi. She witnessed protests by environmentalists and tree lovers. As an artist, her journey in India seems to have motivated her to dialogue with the Trees of Delhi – the silent but vulnerable citizens of Delhi. The drawings seemed to bring out the characters of her new friends which she represented on Banana paper and painted with a squirrel brush. She journeyed to bring her modern training in conversation with the miniature style of painting. Her paintings seem to highlight the minutely certain distinct character of each chosen tree represented. She tried to create in the portrait of each tree the personality which emerged in the manner distinct patterns of their branches, roots, the girth of their trunks, the movement of leaves in the breeze seem to catch the stirring emitted in their intangible voices.

 Trees and Indian Miniatures:

Miniature painting found currency between the early 16th century and late 19th century from Rajasthan in the West, Punjab hills in the north to Deccan in the south. They stand out like a jewel in a crown in the Indian painting tradition.  It is known that trees and foliage in Indian miniatures were often added not merely as decorative elements but to enhance the mood of a chosen narrative. For example, the 12thc poem Gita Govinda by poet Jaidev describing the love between Krishna and Radha. The poem inspired a large number of painters from the ateliers of a variety of medieval courts who promoted the genre of Miniature Paintings. The poem mentions the dark Tamala trees under which several activities of the characters are described and fundamentally the trees get featured as an intrinsic part of the paintings. The trees in the miniature paintings served as geometric designs as much as they conveyed the mood of the central narrative. The trees also served to create spatial compartments so that a story flowed from one part to the other in one painting. It was for this reason the miniature paintings produced a three-dimensional effect.

Tamala tree


Bridging Genres: Kate Bowen a modern painter entered the world of the Miniature painting by training with Delhi based miniature painter – Banwari Lal Rajput.  It was intriguing to see her paintings on the trees which also represented the manner her modern art training dialogued with the new genre of the miniature painting.



 Negotiations: For instance, Line is rarely seen in nature but heavily used in paintings. The lines form an important element in creating the designs as the basis of all work. Quality of the line work can have a huge effect on the final rendering. Miniature artists frequently use lines to delineate one shape from another or to bring out the form. Kate has used Lines to impart energy and dynamism to bring of the character of each tree. The swirls of her squirrel brush seem to glide or to draw to capture designs of branches and roots. Sometimes they seem to be delineated with simple, coarse lines, investing a rawness in the image.



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It is only in twentieth-century art that shapes started getting used as an end in themselves, as we see in Kandinsky’s work. In miniature paintings, all depiction is through realistic, representative shapes usually associated with the objects. Shapes can be rendered with shading, scale, and lines to bring out a three-dimensional form, or they can be rendered flat in a collage-like manner by use of flat color or delineating lines. There is an interplay of myriad small shapes of different tones, contrasting or painstaking similar shapes that brings about an amazingly energetic image. The use of shading which provides hues, saturation, and brightness (or tonality). This technique is absolutely necessary to communicate a definite perception of the world.





Yet another technique Bowen applies and finds similarity with the miniature genre is a quest of texture. Her use of the banana paper enabled a fascinating dialogue between the hair of the squirrel brush and the magnetic pull of the crevices of the paper which seems to capture like a camera the flow of paint bringing out the raw texture of the trees. The appearance seemed to highlight the visual element that served as a stand-in for the qualities of another sense, touching. One could imagine the roughness of the roots, leaves, the sharp bends, and curves of the branches.


Portraits of Trees Fighting to Survive as Citizens:

Finally the question of Space. A miniature painter on his canvas is required to detail and maximize the poignancy of the chosen subject, narrative, character or setting. Each of Bowen’s paintings considered aspires to bring out the depth by depicting foreground, middle-ground and background in their own unique ways. Bowen using a bold naturalist voice does not choose to create the setting of the tree but selects to only paint The Tree transforming the Citizen Trees as personalities by creating their Portraits. Each Citizen tree seeks to communicate a quality where the sense of space is embraced through the overlapping fighting figures of each body part of each tree. The body of each tree appears like a collage-like depiction of space heightening the sense of tumult in the fighting action of trying to survive as a citizen in Delhi.


The work on Trees of Delhi by Kate Bowen is representative of exploring the genre of miniature paintings from the dimension of the twentieth-century design. Her style brings together two different fields, from two different contexts, giving rise to many interesting viewpoints at the points of intersection—the dynamism of lines, the volume afforded by the shapes, the sense of space, the tactile quality, among many others.

However, what is important is the commentary through the visual art to be the advocate voice of the silent Citizens who decades and centuries have remained seminal companion, residents to other citizens. Can we save the Trees of Delhi?






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