Artists in NCR rise to confront climate emergency

In the wake of severe pollution and catastrophic climate change, few Delhiites have embarked on a battle against capitalist destruction, armed with art, making a name for themselves while spreading awareness on the issue

Artists in NCR rise to confront climate emergency

POLLUTION WATCH: A photograph by Atul Bhalla showing the water scarcity in Delhi

Vibha Galhotra spends most of her days creating impactful art at sites that are most vulnerable to pollution, in her bid to spread awareness about the environment through various mediums such as sculpture, animation, photography and performance. Her target areas also happen to be the ones from where the Central Pollution Control Board collects its air quality data.

Galhotra’s work crosses the dimensions of art, ecology, economy and activism. She chooses to be known as an artist addressing the rapid environmental changes in Delhi and the world. Her work ‘Breath by breath’ is a mark of beauty. Its performance was staged at multiple sites across Delhi back in 2016 and continues to be one of the best works of art in the capital.

“My social art practice addresses concerns on the changing environment. In other words, it is about the age of the Anthropocene (an unofficial unit of geologic time, used to describe the most recent period in Earth’s history when human activity started to have a significant impact on the planet’s climate and ecosystems). History is witness to the importance of art. It acts as a lens to different time and space, so my art addresses the issue of my generation,” she says.

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“I believe that we are at the brink of nature’s collapse, so I try to address the urgent global issue through the window of Delhi. Using the mucky sediment of the Yamuna River, I paint at the Ghat and document my surroundings. It’s sad to see the political and individual ownership of the resources,” the 44-year-old asserts.

Sharing an observation, she proceeds, “For ‘Breath by Breath’ I went around NCR during the months of November to January, when the air quality is at its worst and people complain about headaches and nausea. While news of bad air was glaring, there were advertisements for air-purifiers right below it, so someone surely thought of capitalising on the situation. I found it quite satirical and decided to mimic the act of collecting air with fly-catchers into a jar, but in this case, it was toxic air of Delhi/ NCR from different coordinates.”

Her upcoming exhibition focuses on an “imagined, near-future situation based on the current climates, both political and natural”, and looks at a land that was not promised to ‘conscious’ beings.

Wonder with plastic

While everyone else was busy decorating their humble abode during Diwali, Delhi-based Manveer Singh, who is also known as the ‘Plasticvalla’, distributed more than 150 sparrows made of plastic and requested them to avoid noise and air pollution. His idea was to convey how birds suffer due to pollution. “How many sparrows do you see around yourself these days,” Singh questions.

“Being a devout lover of nature, I illustrated its serene beauty in my paintings. However, I realised that I had only depicted nature in my paintings. My efforts didn’t materialize into anything that actually helped the environment heal from the effects of the destruction of capitalism. So, in order to make an impact, I decided to use plastic itself to create art. That’s how ‘Plasticvalla’ came into existence,” he says.

Plasticvalla has upcycled over 650 kg Multi Layered Packaging plastics into artworks. “I am making an effort to see that plastic doesn’t get enmeshed with nature. For this, I collect plastic wrappers door to door before it goes to the public dustbin. I am doing this since hard plastic gets collected for recycling, but it’s very tedious to collect wrappers for the same,” he says.

The winner of METIS Initiative on Plastics and Indo-Pacific Ocean 2021, Plasticvalla has been handing out ‘Habit changer’ boxes within the society and schools to use them for disposal of plastic wrappers. So far, Plasticvalla has made close to 12 artworks using bases like boards, tapestry, metal, mirrors, and so on, each taking an average of two to three months to create.

Information via games

Jiten Thukral was busy explaining a game to a group of people on a call about an art game ‘2030 Net Zero, 2022’, which lets the players save their resources and balance the global temperature with the cards they choose to play.

Thukral explains art as a mirror of time. “An artist responds to their personal issues. Often, personal concerns are also political. Artists cannot operate in isolation, the social structures, policies and do reflect in the practice.”

When Thukral closely examined the recent reports of IPCC, UNEP, cop26, and UN action plans suggesting climate change as the need of the hour, he decided to change the narrative by adopting an interactive approach to the notions of climate change.

Thus, the initiative ‘and Archive’ by Thukral & Tagra (Thukral, along with Sumir Tagra) was born. It encompasses a collection of books and games to disseminate value-based knowledge across different generations.

UNIQUE CANVAS: A habit changer box which turns into a beautiful painting once people fill it with plastics

“Delhi is a very complex urban city. From its dense population to political tensions, we face lots of aggression in daily life. Artistic practices have been responding to the agrarian crises, food system, and policy-making with respect to the recent policies, free speech, and environment. Artists indulge in works that are research-based with a critical lens, often bringing insight,” Thukral says.

Mapping out drastic changes

For conceptual artist and Professor Atul Bhalla, the current state of the atmosphere goes beyond this specificity. Therefore, he set out on a journey to map the history of weather from locations around the world through the imaginary line of 28N Parallel that divides the global North and South, as part of a new project from ‘Khoj’ (an international artists association based in Delhi) initiated alongside World Weather Network, Artangel.

Bhalla, Head of the Department of Art and Performing Arts at Shiv Nadar University, Delhi, says, “It is an ongoing project that began on June 21, 2022, at the exact summer solstice time of 2.43 pm. Titled ‘False Clouds and Real Deluges’, the work encompasses a collection of photographs, videos and sound footage of locations around the 28N Parallel to map the impact of climate change. The project will culminate in June 2023 with an installation in Delhi comprising video, audio footage, and weather reports.”

Further, Bhalla noted that Delhi receives only 17 days of rain on average per year, which unfortunately fails to provide a 24-hour continuous supply of water to its citizens. The irregularities are a matter of concern. Through photography and installations, Professor Bhalla tries to create an impact.

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Tanisha Saxena
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