Social Innovation: Ancient Art Techniques Used to Save Trees in India

This is a beautiful story of art saving trees in the state of Bihar, India from being cut down. Artists are painting images of Hindu gods on trees to save them from the axe and protecting the environment. At fewer than seven per cent, Bihar has one of the lowest forest coverage areas in India. The government is taking steps to increase greenery in the region, with plans to plant 250 million saplings in the next five years and appointing "Tree Friends" to care for young trees planted along roads and other public places.

In the meantime, this unique social innovation project that was started in September by the Gram Vikas Parishad, a local non-governmental organisation, who collected and organised artists, to use tribal art drawings techniques called Madhubani from the 16th to deter religious locals from chopping the trees. They believe the artwork will prompt the deeply-religious to drop any idea of cutting down the trees out of fear of incurring the wrath of the deities, as the tree trunks are decorated with colourful paintings of well-known Hindu gods and goddesses such as Lord Krishna, Goddesses Durga and Saraswati.

The paintings are done with fingers, twigs, the points of fountain pens and even matchsticks, and characterised by brilliant geometrical patterns. Already more than a 100 trees have been decorated. Arti Kumari, one of the dozens of artists who have joined this campaign says, "Not a single painted tree has been cut down yet." Unlike traditional Madhubani paintings, artists for this social innovation campaign do not use natural colours because they will not last. Instead a mixture of lime, glue and synthetic enamels paints is being used, which will last up to three years.

Madhubani painting has a geographical status because it has remained confined to a compact location where the skills have been passed on through centuries, where the content and style have largely remained the same. Traditionally, women and girls used to decorate walls and floors during festivals and weddings with natural colours using religious and mythological themes. The figures are boldly outlined with bulging fish-like eyes and pointed noses.

However, this social innovation project is an expensive one, as painting a tree requires 2,000 rupees ($36.28; £22.77) to 3,000 rupees depending on the size of the tree, which is a big cost to a rural community in India.

On the upside, this initiative has drawn the attention of the international community. The traditional Madhubani artists believe that they are showing the world how an art form can be used to convey a social message in a positive way; a team from Switzerland has visited to study how art could be used to convey a strong social message. Now this local community hopes this social innovation campaign will be promoted to bring tourists to the region.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

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