To seeing with new eyes

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes,” wrote Marcel Proust, in the fifth volume of ‘In Search of Lost Time’. He elaborated: “The only true voyage, the only bath in the Fountain of Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is …”

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With my work, I attempt to see the world through different lenses—that of plants, animals, local people, history, ecology and so on. This digital archive seeks to provide further context to my explorations, sharing the research, fieldwork and collaboration that informs each project.

In this archive, the flora of India is admittedly the star attraction. Of course, spotlighting plants in this way needs no justification. But my motivation for creating this resource stems both from personal interest and from the fact that they are often overlooked in popular culture. Tigers, monkeys and elephants are so familiar to us, yet we often struggle to identify the plants our food comes from. And most of us, I would guess, could recall an iconic brand logo quicker than we can spot a Ficus.

Hidden Kingdoms is an endeavour to look deeper around us—in cities, towns, villages, parks, gardens and jungles. Each exhibit is designed as an interactive canvas, and I would love for us as a community to begin to ‘feel’ our own incredible landscape. With new eyes, alive to the magic that’s always been in our midst, I hope to draw our attention back to entire kingdoms—fantastic yet real—hidden in plain sight!

Nirupa Rao
Botanical Illustrator | IG: @niruparao

Nirupa sketching among the trees, photo.

Nirupa Rao is a botanical illustrator based in Bangalore, India. Her work is inspired by regular field visits, and informed by close collaboration with natural scientists.

A National Geographic Young Explorer, Nirupa received a grant to create her book Hidden Kingdom—Fantastical Plants of the Western Ghats (published in 2019). She has also published Pillars of Life—Magnificent Trees of the Western Ghats (2018), a debut project in collaboration with ecologists Divya Mudappa and TR Shankar Raman of the Nature Conservation Foundation. She illustrated the cover of Amitav Ghosh’s novel, Gun Island, and re-jacketed four of his older novels for Penguin-Random House. In 2020, she received the prestigious National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship to create the animated short film Spirit of the Forest.

In 2021, she was the youngest artist to be featured in Kew Botanical Garden’s Indian Botanical Art—An Illustrated History, a book by celebrated writer Martyn Rix. She was also featured in the BBC documentary Nature and Us—A History Through Art.

​In 2022, she was artist-in-residence at Harvard University’s Dumbarton Oaks Research Centre, and exhibited her works at their museum. She collaborated with the Centre for Wildlife Studies on Wild Shaale (‘Wild School’ in Kannada), an environmental and conservation-education program designed for rural school-going children, aimed at nurturing interest and empathy toward India’s wildlife and wild places. During the COVID-19 lockdown, she recorded art classes to be televised on the national channel Doordarshan, as part of a program coordinated by the Going to School Foundation, and conducted a workshop for Science Gallery Bangalore‘s PHYTOPIA exhibition. She has also been named an INK Fellow, one to ‘watch out for’ in Forbes India‘s annual 30 Under 30 issue, and one of Harper‘s Bazaar India‘s ‘Indian Women to be Proud Of’.

Exhibit 02

Spirit of the Forest

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