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Book of Biodiversity

RISD graduate Mudita Pasari has created Biodiversity 360, an illustrated guide to Guwahati’s biodiversity and the challenges posed by urbanization.


In 1891, the population of Guwahati was 8,394. By 2011, that number had skyrocketed to 957,352; by 2017, it topped two million people. This rapid urbanization has impacted much of the region’s ecosystem. Some call for environmental protections; others seek to prioritize economic growth.

Artist Mudita Pasari has called attention to this issue with a project, titled Biodiversity 360. It is an illustrated guide to local species that can be found in Guwahati’s urban environment. She created it after receiving a Maharam RISD STEAM Fellowship. Selected students from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) are awarded internship opportunities through the fellowship in applied art and design, funded by the New York-based textile company, Maharam.

Pasari’s background dovetails well with her interest in research. She attended the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, for her undergraduate studies in visual communication, with a specialization in exhibition and spatial design. Then, she sought a postgraduate education that would help her answer the following question: “Can I, as a designer, create research and work which could permeate into everyday life, to help introduce a better understanding of problems around us? Not through books, but experiences.”

Pasari explored the answers at RISD through a master’s degree in art and design education. RISD’s academic support, and the program’s flexibility and encouragement to take risks, she says, influenced her career choices as well as her STEAM fellowship application.

For her dissertation, Pasari focused on the relationship between humans and the endangered pangolin. This research helped her develop interventions at the cross-section between humans, urbanization and the environment.

Pasari chose to take this further with the Maharam STEAM Fellowship. The experience, she says, was “intensive but highly satisfying,” and left her with more conviction to pursue her goals.

Her Biodiversity 360 project focuses on the species found within the city of Guwahati. She documented many such species and created an accordion book, called “Biodiversity 360.” It showcases local species co-inhabiting the city, and suggests ways for humans to make the urban environment a safer place for co-existence. It urges people to walk around and observe urban biodiversity. The book includes a narrative and illustrations of each species and their surroundings. It is accompanied by a small biodiversity map, which shares brief details of the species, the rough locations they can be found in and their current International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) status.

“The book is by no means a comprehensive study, but rather a point to ignite curiosity and understanding that small actions by humans could actually help create a conducive environment for smaller species to thrive in and create spaces for them to cohabit our cities with us,” says Pasari.

Pasari also has created an installation for an interdisciplinary learning festival in Panaji, on marine diversity and plastic waste. She experimented with the idea of a Museum in a Box at RISD, where she considered turning actual living spaces into museums.

“I see my work as trying to open avenues for people to look at our world and heritage with fresh perspectives,” says Pasari. “From an Indian perspective, I have always wondered what would happen if the museums came to them.”

She seeks to inform people about problems rather than tell them how to solve those, she says, recognizing the many nuances of an issue.

“I don’t think we have the right to simply say, ‘stop doing this, or buying that.’ One must make an informed decision in various scenarios,” she says.

Pasari has watched the ecology of northeast India change over the past two decades firsthand, like the transition from lush mountains to built-up cityscapes, she says, and feels the need for restoring balance. “As urban environments are ever-expanding, we encroach into existing natural habitats. While many larger animals are confined to reserved forests, the smaller ones find ways to grow and thrive in human surroundings,” says Pasari.

She chose to do the Biodiversity 360 project with a nongovernmental organization, Help Earth. “With a lot of support from my local mentor, Jayaditya Purkayastha, I was able to go around the city and document the various species that are facing problems, which could be fixed with small human interventions,” says Pasari. “I realized that one must encourage the locals to appreciate their surroundings and the richness in biodiversity. Because only if we are proud of it, will we work toward preserving it.”

 

Candice Yacono is a magazine and newspaper writer based in southern California.