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Artist Uma’s paintings aim to save coral reefs
After learning scuba diving at the age of 49, Uma Mani began to realise the dire state coral reefs are in. Through her artwork, this homemaker is trying to convey the need to save them.
In 2004, Uma Mani shifted to a small island in the Maldives with her husband, who got posted as a doctor in a hospital there. Along with her son, who was then studying Fisheries Science, Uma spent her evenings on the serene Maldive beaches. Later, her son learnt snorkelling and shared details about the beautiful coral reefs under water.
Those stories piqued curiosity in Uma and she started painting corals on canvas. In a chat with DTNext, Uma, who currently resides at Kodaikanal, opens up about learning painting and becoming a certified scuba diver at the age of 49.
“Four years ago, while in Maldives I joined for a three-month painting course at Alliance Francaise centre there. I was looking for a good theme and thought of roses first. During the World Earth Day celebrations, Pascale Chabanet, a coral researcher from the Reunion Island visited us and explained the meaningful existence of coral reefs. She also screened a documentary on corals and I decided to make that my theme. I also understood the importance of coral reefs; until then I hardly knew any details about it,” says Uma.
She began creating artworks of corals but noticed something was missing in the paintings — fishes and other marine creatures. “In Maldives, we could see corals through the crystal clear water. I had never been underwater, but I was curious to see what the corals looked like. That led me to learn diving at the age of 49. I even didn’t know how to swim, but I needed to come out of my comfort zone and explore my skills.
I became a PADI certified scuba diver and started diving quite often just to observe the underwater ecosystem. Once I was back on land, I researched about the varieties of coral reefs, talked to marine experts and collected details about it. After studying them, I painted the images that I had saved in my memory,” Uma says with a smile. She specialises in semi-abstract paintings.
After exhibiting her paintings in the Maldives, Uma held an art exhibition in New Delhi recently. Through her paintings, Uma is trying to convey the importance of saving coral reefs. “They are way too beautiful and it’s our duty to save them. I want to set up coral nurseries along the Indian coast. I am planning to dive at the coral nursery in Gujarat and paint a picture of it.
There is a coral nursery in the Maldives — it is a 40ft-long flower-shaped structure known as the Lotus. During the tsunami, this served as a compound wall causing less destruction, when compared to India and Sri Lanka. Coral reefs protect coastlines from the damaging effects of wave action and provide shelter for many marine organisms,” quips the artist.
After learning her story, documentary filmmaker Priya Thuvassery is making a documentary on Uma titled Coral Woman. “I am just a homemaker doing my bit for the environment through my paintings. I am more than happy to collaborate with marine researchers and environmentalists and hold more painting exhibitions across the country,” she adds.
Recently, she dived in Sri Lanka, Thoothukudi, Rameswaram, Ramanathapuram and Maldives. “I am painting the visuals I saw there now and will put up an exhibition soon.”
When Uma is not diving, she dedicates time for farming on her land in Vazhagiri near Kodaikanal. With the help of local women and her son, she is setting up an organic farm.