Categories
BLOG

seed hunter

Trees in the big city

Chennai’s seed hunter: A peek into Benitha Perciyal’s studio

Re-used Burma teak, bark powder and foraged seeds are just a few of the materials Benitha Perciyal uses in her installations

    Share Article
  • PRINT
  • AAA

The Three Treasures crafted using rice paper and seeds | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Re-used Burma teak, bark powder and foraged seeds are just a few of the materials Benitha Perciyal uses in her installations

In the 90s, a college-going Benitha Perciyal was so taken with the cotton pod that she made it the subject of her work for a long time. To her, the seed was a metaphor for the feminine, with its hard exterior and wispy white interior. “I later realised that seeds can represent any cyclic life form,” says the artist, whose materials of choice include re-used Burma teak, resins, fibres, seeds and frankincense.

As a child, Perciyal was fascinated with nature and this is reflected in her many installations, all of which take the form of a memory. Like Naan Oru Penn, Yen Yennam Aayiram (2016), where the figurines are featured with containers made of bottle gourds. “My mother would store honey in a dried-up sorakkai [bottle gourd]; that’s how I view the vegetable,” she says.

Her art (can go up to ₹19 lakh) is found in public spaces such as The Centre Pompidou, Paris, and The Sculpture Park at Nahargarh Fort, Jaipur. Perciyal’s installations are also part of private collections by art aficionados like Sanjay Tulsyan (Chennai), Tarana Sawhney (New Delhi) and Sangitha Jindal (Mumbai).

Chasing inspiration

In the 20 years since she moved to Chennai from her hometown, Thiruvannamalai, Perciyal, 40, has become well-versed with the city’s treescape. “When you actively observe trees and their life cycle, it is almost as though they are speaking to you,” she says.

Her recent exhibition in Mumbai (in October), Aggregate, used seeds gathered from around Chennai. For instance, the installation We Shall Meet Again is made of Indian Elm and Tacoma seeds found by the beach. “The brown [elm] seed is as small as the new ₹1 coin, and I’ve stuck thousands together,” she says, adding that the Tacoma seeds were sourced from the Government Music College and the Theosophical Society in Adyar.

The seeds of the African Tulip tree, sourced near her home, have gone into the All Arise In It, All Dissolve In It installation. “Also called the Flame of the Forest, the seeds are thin and fine,” she says. In You Cannot Be Alone, she’s used seeds from the Pink Trumpet, spotted along the lanes of Madras University and Island Grounds.

Key to the Garden: a papier-mâché bowl featuring seeds from the Pink Trumpet Tree | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Back to the dirt

Perciyal is aware that there’s a downside to working with seeds — criticism that she is hampering the tree’s natural life cycle. “I pick and forage my seeds after studying the tree for a long time, and when I am sure that it has no scope to germinate elsewhere,” she explains. Moreover, the ultimate aim for her work is for them “to go back to the Earth where they can resurrect”.

You have reached your limit for free articles this month.

To get full access, please subscribe.

Already have an account ? Sign in

Start your 14 days free trial. Sign Up

A letter from the Editor

We have been keeping you up-to-date with information on the developments in India and the world that have a bearing on our health and wellbeing, our lives and livelihoods, during these difficult times. To enable wide dissemination of news that is in public interest, we have increased the number of articles that can be read free, and extended free trial periods. However, we have a request for those who can afford to subscribe: please do. As we fight disinformation and misinformation, and keep apace with the happenings, we need to commit greater resources to news gathering operations. We promise to deliver quality journalism that stays away from vested interest and political propaganda.

A letter from the Editor

Your support for our journalism is invaluable. It’s a support for truth and fairness in journalism. It has helped us keep apace with events and happenings.

The Hindu has always stood for journalism that is in the public interest. At this difficult time, it becomes even more important that we have access to information that has a bearing on our health and well-being, our lives, and livelihoods. As a subscriber, you are not only a beneficiary of our work but also its enabler.

We also reiterate here the promise that our team of reporters, copy editors, fact-checkers, designers, and photographers will deliver quality journalism that stays away from vested interest and political propaganda.

Re-used Burma teak, bark powder and foraged seeds are just a few of the materials Benitha Perciyal uses in her installations