Dilemma 1: art vs conservation

For someone who has a strong sense of moral/ethical and social ideals, envisioning them shouldn’t be hard. And yet there are so many grey areas that one is forced to settle for the lesser evil. This may be reality but it certainly leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

Take for example, the recent Martha Stewart show that I happened to catch. She had a segment where she interviewed this guy who handcrafted beautiful bowls from different types of wood. It really was a work of art, as he mainly chipped away at the wood (using power tools however!) until the wood itself seemed to give up a design. But some of the woods he used where from trees that grew in Africa and in the South American rain-forests*. Interestingly, they never covered where he got these woods from. There was a fleeting visual of him shaving off the bark before cutting the wood to size, which gave the impression that it was from a cut down tree (rather than a fallen down one)**. The end result was, as I mentioned earlier, these beautifully shaped wooden bowls and cutting boards, that were, without doubt a work of art. But throughout the interview I could not help feeling that it was an indulgence. How can we cry ourselves hoarse about conservation and at the same time admire and encourage something that involves cutting down these very trees we want to conserve. But on the other hand, how can we curtail a work of art? Isn’t that another form of censorship? Maybe if he is just one person indulging in this form of art it doent cause a great dent. Then again, maybe he sponsors the planting of seedlings at a regular basis. So does one “just say no” to these bowls? But what if others want to learn the art? Does one say no to that too?

A similar example, more closer to home, is the silk hand-loom industry. Apart from the bonded-labour issue ***, there is the whole issue of cruelty to the silk worm. Especially to the B.muri species, which are boiled while still in the cuccoon (thus killing them) to extract the silk . It is this method that gives the silk its shine and the weave its smoothness. It also lends itself to the weaving of the typical South Indian patterns. Earlier, I had given up buying silk sarees as I couldn’t stomach the idea of killing all those worms just to own a beautiful fabric. Later, I went on a class trip to Kancheepuram to see the silk weaving done. Talking informally to some of the weavers, I realised that the art of hand-loom weaving was slowly making its way towards extinction. The competition with big companies with power-looms, poor government subsidies to hand-loom weaving, bad health care plan was all driving the younger generation to look towards other career options. Even if all these socio-economic problems were to be solved, is it still right to encourage this art form that perpetrates cruelty?

Eventually it boils down to individual choice. What choice can you live with? Easier said than done, I feel.

* Interestingly this segment was immediately followed by one about animals that were facing extinction due to loss of their natural (rain forest) habitats. Irony, or just political correctness on MS’s part?

**Preliminary Google search revealed other establishments that used fallen down trees and the pattern of moss that grew on them for making similar kind of kitchenware. I am not saying that he doesnt do the same. It is just interesting that given the above point, they didn’t make a point of saying so. Which leads me to suspect he doesn’t use fallen trees.

***This is in no way meant to belittle the importance of the bonded-labour issue. It is just not relevant to this post.


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