Over 35 years ago, when I spent two years living in Nairobi, my sister Seema, then a young zoology student came to visit. Among the souvenirs she picked up from the local market was a potholder made of cane that was shaped like a frog. After that trip, wherever she went, it was almost as if frogs were jumping out from everywhere, urging to be picked up! Frogs in all materials, shapes, sizes and poses. And so, Seema became a ‘frog collector’! It also made it easy for friends and family to find her a gift. Over the years, the frog artefact collection grew and grew till her house was bursting at the seams with frogs big and small. One day the thought came, how could this be shared with more people, and what would be the purpose of the sharing? Over a couple of years, and a combination of fortuitous circumstances, this idea metamorphosed into FrogFest.
FrogFest began as a brainchild of Seema’s old school friend Aditya Arya whose creative mind has always leapt way ahead of the average plodders and hoppers. Let’s do an exhibition called FrogArt, he said. With his vast experience in photography and exhibit design, he offered to curate the show. That done, it worked out that WWF offered to host the display. This was indeed serendipity! WWF was where Seema began her professional life as a volunteer (while still a college student). What better way to “give back” to an institution that was the first to nurture what became a lifelong passion (as well as vocation) for biodiversity and conservation!
Then came the challenge—how to use the frog artefacts to highlight the larger issues of amphibian conservation; how to creatively bridge the traditional gap between Art and Science? Seema invited me to join the team as co-curator, to apply my experience as an environmental educator. After six months of being steeped in all matters Batrachian (along the way we discovered that the study of frogs was known as Batrachology!) we were ready to launch FrogFest—Celebrating Frogs in Art and Nature.
As the name suggests, FrogFest focuses on the amazingly diverse interpretations of a single element of nature–the frog! It showcases Seema Bhatt’s personal collection of frog artefacts from over 40 countries, including a rendering of frogs in folk art, as well as contemporary art by young artists.
The display of the artefacts and art is supported by a series of panels that highlight the fascinating aspects of frogs, and the conservation significance of frogs in nature. Far from the dusty tomes of academic journals, the visual-rich and reader-friendly panels also offer a peep into the fascinating world of frogs in India and the important initiatives to conserve them.These have been supported and enriched with expert inputs from Dr S.D. Biju and Dr Gururaja, India’s foremost amphibian scientists.
The bridge between art and nature is further strengthened by the organisation and display of artefacts. For example, where the panel describes the role of colour in frogs in Nature, there is also a display of nearly a hundred frog artefacts, made from glass, ceramic, clay, stone and more, with vibrant colours, along with a ‘Frogtoid’ that reminds that while artists have let their imagination run riot, nature has bestowed frogs with a colour palette on which their very survival depends (attracting mates, warning predators).
With its brilliant interweaving of the facts and fun FrogFest offers a feast for the senses. It also provides food for thought by putting the spotlight on the Frog. At a time when the focus of wildlife conservation is primarily on charismatic ‘megafauna’, there is a dire need to reflect on the conservation of smaller, but equally significant fauna around us. While frogs may not always hit the headlines as the ‘Superstars’ of the grand epic of nature, they are no less fascinating, and indeed, no less important in the Web of Life.
FrogFest is on at WWF India, 172-B Lodi Road, New Delhi till the end of April 2018.