A Festival to Showcase Approaches to Ecological Sustainability

From Delhi to Assam and more, the Photosphere Festival, recently opened at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi, showcases many ecological and cultural issues.

New Delhi: With the end of some of the capital’s oldest residential colonies like Sarojini Nagar and Netaji Nagar, its people are set to lose low-rise neighbourhoods, a wealth of old trees, rich bird life, and an altogether gentler way of living in which your balcony could look out on a Neem tree and you could hear the koel singing.

The government employees’ residential colonies are being demolished and ‘redeveloped’ by NBCC India and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs in favour of gated highrises and vast commercial spaces (such as a World Trade Centre in what used to be Nauroji Nagar).

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Last year, widespread protests against the felling of 16,500 trees (NBCC’s own estimate) had seen citizens’s outrage over such a massive loss of tree cover in a city routinely making headlines for its critical levels of pollution.

Today, even as the NBCC redesigns its plans on the high court’s orders – and the hearings on the flawed impact assessments and hasty permissions given for the Word Trade Centre continue – these “quarters” stand semi-demolished, their windows and doors removed.

My digital collages in the show, ‘A Window Into Redevelopment’, bring together these houses and their threatened peepal, banyan, semal, neem, amaltas and mango trees in an attempt to question such an unimaginative and top-heavy form of decision making.

The utter absence of people from the images mirrors the absence of Delhi’s people from this kind of planning, which radically changes the nature of the city without consulting those who live in it.

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This collage and many other are part of a month-long festival that showcases diverse approaches around the theme of ecological and cultural sustainability.

Among the winners of the Photosphere fellowship, Zishaan A. Latif, invests immense thought and emotional investment in the “drowning state of existence” of Majuli, the Assamese island that is contantly being broken and displaced by the River Bramhaputra.

An installation of images depicting the ‘withering’ of Majuli, overlaid with the relevant Google Earth satellite imagery, makes a very moving palimpsest of this constantly displaced landscape.

Syed Adnan Ahmed focuses on the precarious, because illegal, tradition of Murgh-baazi (rooster-fighting), in all its cruelty and excitement, including the owners’ fondness for their doomed birds and their own marginal existence.

Thulasi Kakkat’s ecological-cultural project focusses on Kerala’s Theyyam dance, its male perfomers who play goddesses, and the precious lush sacred groves in which these nature deities ‘lived’, which are now being lost to the scramble for real estate.

Also on show is the work of Photosphere jury members and mentors. Aditya Arya’s sensuous, material tribute to the Aravallis – and to some vintage analog printing processes – results in Tattva, an exhibition of cyanotype, anthotype, salt print, and gum bichromate prints, often made with the use of water, salt and gum Arabic from the Aravallis themselves.

Bandeep Singh’s Bhiksha is a meditation on the pieces of cloth that spiritual mendicants in the Kumbh mela spread for worshippers to leave rice on. The intense black-and-white images laid on the floor, like the Bhiksha cloths, speak of a much more liberating paradigm of giving and receiving than mere ‘beggary’ indicates.

An exhibit at the Photosphere Festival. Credit: Juhi Saklani

Prabir Purkayastha’s images are a still and quiet expression of his years of engagement with Ladakh; the photographs often seem to be distilled down to the pure essence of light in this unique mountain-desert region.

Parthiv Shah presents images from his long-standing dialogue with the River Narmada and her universe, including a moving set of images submerged in water, echoing the submergence and displacement of people and ways of life every time the river is sought to be dammed and transformed.

These and many more displays will be held at the India Habitat Centre Photosphere until March 18. Apart from the exhibitions and events, there will also be talks and workshops. Exhibitions are free and open to all.