Sky Islands: An Endangered Indian Landscape

Sky Islands: An Endangered Indian Landscape
Manjusha Ninan, Alumni Coordinator

Through the photographic lens of Ian Lockwood ’88

This November, the Piramal Art Gallery, nestled within the prestigious National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) in Mumbai will be hosting an exhibition titled "Sky Islands: An Endangered Indian Landscape." The exhibition will feature a collection of photographs captured by Ian Lockwood (Class of ‘88) and is being produced in association with KIS and our Center for Environment and Humanity (CEH). 

Ian states, “In an age of colossal human impact and accelerating climate change, the exhibition highlights the concept of the Sky Islands in southern India with an overarching message of conservation.” The initiative will raise funds for the CEH to address its mission of “offering innovative experiential programs and research opportunities for students, educators, organizations and agencies that lead to practical solutions for crucial human-environment issues.”

Sky Islands are mountainous terrain, valleys and peaks that have allowed for biogeographic isolation that was typically associated with oceanic islands, however, these are located on land. They have evolved into regions of immense biodiversity representing populations and ecosystems, unlike any other area. Now development, agriculture and tourism pose serious threats to these precious ecosystems and are placing them in considerable danger, making conversations about conservation essential.

“I was first introduced to the idea of sky islands by the evolutionary biologist V.V. Robin,” says Ian. He continues, “In 2006 we crossed paths in Cairn Hill Shola in the Nilgiri hills looking for endemic shola birds. More than any other individual, Robin has worked to identify the upper reaches of the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot as sky islands. His research has focused on the evolution of bird species specific to the sky islands of the southern Western Ghats. Now as an assistant professor at IISER Tirupati, Robin has nurtured an expanding group of young researchers to examine and broaden our understanding of the ecology of Sky Islands.”

In 2001, when Ian Lockwood last exhibited in Mumbai at the Bombay Natural History Society, he highlighted the landscapes and ecology of the Western Ghat ranges. The collection of black and white images was used to emphasize the role of the Western Ghats as a treasure trove of biodiversity and the vital role it plays in water security for peninsular India.

“Now 22 years later I have fresh work to share in Mumbai. I have visited a broader swathe of the Western Ghats, explored Sri Lanka in-depth and focused on the higher elevation Sky Islands of the ranges. In the last few years, I have collaborated on several significant studies in the Palani Hills that have investigated the biogeography and change in land cover of the Sky Island habitats in the Western Ghats. Maps and satellite imagery help us understand the patterns and relationships of the landscape and I have been developing geospatial skills to better analyze changes in land cover and vegetation in the Western Ghats/Sri Lanka biodiversity hotspot,” describes Ian.

In 2018, Ian Lockwood held a photography exhibition of his work The Hills of Murugan at Dakshina Chitra, Chennai. Ian continues to produce photo essays for Indian-based publications and through his blog (

The Sky Islands exhibition documents the unique but threatened ecosystems above 1,400 meters. “While staying focused on the Western Ghats, my workflow is completely different from back in 2001. I still have a quantity of 120 negatives exposed after the BNHS show which I have been scanning and then printing digitally. The Sky Islands exhibition will present fine art images printed on archival Hahnemühle paper and printed at larger sizes (20”x 20” and above) to emphasize detail and give viewers a richer sense of the landscape. As is usual in my exhibitions, there will be supporting information panels of annotated maps.”

The exhibition will open on November 23rd at Piramal Art Gallery and will remain open until December 3rd. For more information on purchasing prints and events contact: