Bee that as it may…

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An art piece by Shambhavi Singh, at the Hyatt Regency in Chennai
An art piece by Shambhavi Singh, at the Hyatt Regency in Chennai

In the recently concluded Paris Fashion Week, designer Sarah Burton showcased models wearing honeycomb-latticed boots, head gear modelled on apiculturists’ hats, and elaborate evening dresses with blooms and bee detailing. As Sarah, who designed Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, said later, “It was looking at womanhood and embracing the female form. I wanted it to feel sensual. I wanted to have a lightness to it and I wanted it to feel erotic but not in an overly fleshy kind of way.”

Closer home, the Hyatt Regency in Chennai recently hosted a three-day fest centred on bee inspired art pieces. About four years ago, Namita Saraf (hotelier Arun Saraf’s wife) and Rajeev Sethi (designer and chairman of Asian Heritage Foundation) were standing at the erstwhile Abbotsbury in Chennai, which was later acquired by the Sarafs’ Hyatt Group. There, they saw huge bee hives hanging from beams that were part of the former structure. Rather than being scared away by the thought of painful stings, Namita wondered “if the bees are telling us something”.

“The fact that the bees had obviously found ample nectar nearby in a concrete jungle…moved me,” says Sethi. Hyatt commissioned artists to create pieces that were based on different aspects of the honey bee, and science and literature sources were trawled through for information. What resulted was a range of around 50 art works that now have a home at the Hyatt. These include ‘The Beehive’ by Vibha Galhotra, a life-like structure made from ghungroos or ankle bells used by dancers; metal structures that look like honeycombs by Janarthanan; and ‘Honey Drip’, made of cast resin which looks like a massive drop of honey.

The works arouse the interest of the hotel’s guests and visitors – the initial reaction is understandably one of alarm, when they wonder if those are real hives or honey bees hanging from the balconies, but that most often soon turns into curiosity. And this is when the art becomes a way of spreading awareness of ecological issues.

When the research was under way, the Sarafs and Sethi made a daunting discovery – bees are dying in huge numbers and despite the importance accorded to them in literature and ancient scriptures, we have failed to pay attention to their role in maintaining the ecological balance. The three-day event included performances and discussions by Kurumba tribals (beekeepers from the Nilgiris), dances, talks, street theatre, video shows, and — to make the experience sweeter — honey tasting. The focus was on the dwindling numbers of the honey bee, and the danger this holds for humanity.

Bee-inspired art apart, concern over the insect’s dwindling numbers also finds resonance around the world, and — thankfully — efforts are being made to turn the tide back, especially in the West Not just farms and rural centres, even bustling cities like London and New York are seeing people make the effort to spread awareness and revive the bee population.

(This article was published on October 25, 2012)
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