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Negotiating Routes:Ecologies Of The Byways 2013

The Negotiating Routes – Ecologies of the Byways invited creative practitioners to propose site-specific and interdisciplinary projects in response to the National Highway Development Program (NHDP) which had put land acquisition on fast track and was taking legal and police action against non-performing contractors and displaced villagers and tribals alike. The projects combined research and art, while addressing the visible and invisible transformations taking place in their immediate environments. Negotiating Routes encouraged archiving of local knowledge and mythologies about various ecologies whilst also facilitating a collaborative dialogue between the artist and the local community.

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In its fourth year, Negotiating Routes mapped the various project sites across the country to create an alternative road map, where artists and communities discussed the regeneration of the local ecology of their cities or villages together. Using the nomenclature of the National Highway or NH1, each site was ironically named NR1, NR2, and formed the nodal points of an alternatively mapped metaphorical route, marked by art, where transference and exchange of knowledge had taken place.

NR 12: Hamari Nag River
Alagangle (Tanul Vikamshi, Milli Pandey and Lalit Vikamshi)

The story of the Nag river is not different from the story of any other river of India: it is severely polluted due to irresponsible attitudes and gross mismanagement. As per the urban river health assessment studies, many cities of India are classic examples of river mismanagement.

The Nag River flows for most of its course through the urbanised part of Nagpur city with an approximate population of 2.5 million. The Nag river eco-system is under maximum stress, due to the social and economic activities carried out by people from a cross-section of backgrounds with different land use patterns. The occupational and domestic activities in various households invariably result in the production of liquid, solid and gaseous wastes of various types and quantities that subsequently find their way into the river. Today 100% of Nagpur sewage is pumped into the Nag River and tributaries of this river crisscross the city. The city had a large number of old wells which over time have fallen into disuse. Additionally, all the wells in the proximity of the Nag River are polluted. During the planning and development of Nagpur city insufficient consideration was given to natural conditions such as topography, geology, water regime, climate, vegetation etc. Rivers were canalised and then converted into sewers, often as a result of unthoughtful planning.

There is an urgent need for the rejuvenation of the decaying Nag River and for the correct disposal of all sewage generated in the city. The National Environmental Engineering and Research Institute (NEERI) has developed a new technology called Phytorid Waste Water Treatment, which can potentially be used to treat sections of the Nag river. With this technology the Nag River’s sewage water may be treated and greenery could also be developed along the river.

This project, in conjunction with NEERI treated Nag River’s sewage water and developed greenery over a 500 metre stretch of the river. Simultaneously, Alagangle developed a series of programs (talks, seminars, workshops, mural paintings, signage creation etc.) that involved the local community, particularly school children, to spread awareness about not only the pollution in the river, but also preventative measures and possible solutions to the existing damage.

NR 13: Reconciling Ecologies in the Millennium City
Alex White-Mazzarella, Namrata Mehta and Soaib Grewal

Reconciling Ecologies in the Millenium City was a collective project engaging communities to recognise their agricultural ecology and create opportunities for its re-inclusion. Over the last decade, private developers and marketing forces have been fabricating a city in the farm suburb of Gurgaon. Through the economic liberalisation of Gurgaon’s land and ripe real estate demand, fertile agricultural land has given way to commercial and residential complexes through a speculative process of land selling, buying and transformation.

In just five years’ time, the Millenium City has risen; shopping malls, golf courses, luxury shops, gated housing complexes and a new population of workers and residents on land that used to be home to wheat, mustard seeds, barley and sugarcane for hundreds of years. Approximately 40% of Gurgaon’s agricultural land has been lost in these past five years. Officials fear that a continuation of these unchecked land developments will leave Gurgaon without any agricultural land in ten years’ time. Little attention is being paid to this agricultural loss in the face of Gurgaon’s burgeoning formula for materialising a new and novel, magical utopian lifestyle. The allure of seemingly creating a city of wealth overnight and living a ‘comfortable’ life is making the Millenium City an exciting ‘new’ model for India’s future city. Similar rural and agricultural lands are being targeted, acquired and speculated on, to house an increasing urban population and to feed those dying to live and experience a western consumer-based lifestyle.

Gurgaon is serving as the way forward and being copied elsewhere, but individuals and groups are already questioning the Millenium City, its viability beyond the short-term boom, its environmental sustainability and cultural sustainability. Citizens groups like I am Gurgaon are acting as activists and participants in community building and outreach, as they search for a new collective social identity; these are now coming-of-age signs of the liberal middle class. Other individuals are taking on the challenge of replacing the agricultural economies of the recent past, with new consumer-driven models such as organic farming and even privately owned farms for personal consumption.

The project investigated how agriculture is re-formatting itself to adapt to Gurgaon’s transforming built environment and also to test notions of how Gurgaon’s natural ecology can be regenerated. Central questions revolved around the relationship between sustainability and speculation as seen through the urban development of Gurgaon.

NR 14: Revisiting the Chipko Andolan
Sunandita Mehrotra (Ita)

The Chipko Andolan began in the early 1970s in the Garwal Himalayas of Uttarakhand, as a novel way of protesting against the felling of trees. What is unique about the Chipko Andolan is not only its mode of resistance, but also that it was born primarily out of protest by those who lived off the forest, for whom the felling of trees meant the loss of livelihoods.

From there it has gone on to become a rallying point for environmentalists and eco-socialists the world over. When it started, organised movements in remote and cut-off areas such as these were few and far between; primarily however, the Chipko Andolan is recognised as a movement where women have played a key role and one that has gone on to address a range of issues from deforestation to alcoholism.

Today there are hundreds of environmental organisations and the state holds conservation to be a main priority, there are laws and stay orders continuously being passed to maintain the ecological balance. Uttarakhand, however, has seen an increasing amount of forest depletion, sometimes for creating public assets like road ways, sometimes for the construction of private companies or housing projects. This not only means a loss of forests and livelihoods but also the local biodiversity which was originally extremely rich. The educational system does not take into account the wealth of local histories, stories, experiences and environment in these regions; even the basic achievements of the Chipko movement are lost to the youth in the fast urbanising culture of today. Yet simultaneously, the movement has given birth to seed conservation programs such as the Beej Bachao Andolan, which has preserved over a hundred varieties of Rajma varieties amongst countless others.

The women who began the movement are still there, just as strong and inspiring, full of the stories, folk songs and slogans which carried them forward. There is an urgent need to piece together the wealth of experiences and histories of these villages where the movement emerged and to create educational resource material, which can continue to shape an understanding of the environments within and outside the region. To that end, the project worked with communities in three villages in Tehri Gharwal, in order to “document” (so to speak) how the movement began and how it continues to evolve.

NR 15: Ecologies of the Excess
Naveen Mahantesh, Ankit Bhargava and Srajana Kaikini

The project concentrated on formulating a database of questions concerning the contemporary ecologies of excess. It tried to understand the narratives and loopholes of ‘excess’ that human society releases on a day-to-day basis. An analysis was  drawn through an understanding of the urban narrative and the rural narrative.


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