Series of films & videos
From the series 'Critical Membrane'

2015 - Ongoing
'The Critical Membrane photographs, films, videos and creative documentaries focus on landscapes, livelihoods and systems in flux. They are reflections on India's fragile coastal and mangrove ecosystems as sites of history memory and transformation.'
'Signs of Skin' is a series of films on the fragile Coastal ecosystems and Mangrove ecosystems of India. The films and videos are a component of the artist's Critical Membrane project. They include the artists' notes & observations, in situ video documentation, and recordings from field trips and research visits with scientists and experts, along with her interactions with fishing, farming and tribal communities of Coastal India.

The coastal and mangrove ecosystems provide a preview of the challenges ahead for all other ecosystems and biodiversity hotspots across the planet. Documented extensively in degraded mangrove belts and saline affected lands across India, these decaying ecosystems speak volumes about a living vicious cycle of depredation that is the tale of 21st century globalization. The crumbling, moldering and decaying residues of mangrove trees and deteriorating lands await inundation. The landscapes speak chronicles of past histories, politics, the environment and economics of consumption. (The artist refers to environmental and forestry laws during the colonial period, and chronic human misuse of forest lands in the post-colonial and post-Tsunami environments.)

Tied to the fragility of these ecosystems, is the ecological and livelihood security of the coastal communities.
Rising sea temperatures and changes in coastal shorelines due to climate change along with chronic human misuse of ecosystems such as over fishing, and pollution are paving the way towards an apocalyptic future.

The films also explore the traditional skills, indigenous knowledge systems and fishing techniques used by the fisher folk that are under threat and at the risk of being replaced by modern unsustainable technologies that damage ecosystems. The success of all efforts directed at restoring these ecosystems depends on recognizing the significant role that the fisher folk and farmers and their knowledge of traditional and indigenous techniques of fishing and farming can play in coping with the environmental damage.

In the Muthupet mangrove forests, a 200 year old traditional method of fishing in wetlands could be the key to restoring vast degraded mangrove belts across the country; in the crowded fish landing centers of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, experienced local fishermen discuss a severe crisis that is sweeping India's coasts and its fishing grounds, the possible causes of fish mortality, declining fish catch and its consequences on their livelihood; In the Pichavaram wetlands, a forgotten tribe is already practicing a new way of life - of managing and conserving the bio diverse mangrove forests, and are pointing the way forward to a sustainable future...

© sonia mehra chawla