Yamuna-Elbe. Public.Art.Ecology (www.yamuna-elbe.de and yamuna-elbe.org) Oct-Nov 2011, Hamburg and Delhi

PROJECT Y: A Yamuna-Elbe Public Art and Outreach Project

 Organised by:

 “Germany and India 2011-2012: Infinite Opportunities”

 Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi

 GIZ

 & The City of Hamburg

 Delhi: 09 – 23 November 2011

A Public Art Project at the Yamuna in Delhi and the Elbe in Hamburg

Curated by Ravi Agarwal (Delhi) and Till Krause with Nina Kalenbach (Hamburg)

Background

Project Y is a public art and outreach project initiated by the Ministry of Culture, Hamburg, and carried out in the framework of “Germany and India 2011-2012: Infinite Opportunities”. It will be held in the cities of Delhi and Hamburg between October 16th and November 23rd, 2011, almost in parallel.

The collaborative project is centered on the idea of creating ecological sustainable rivers in cities. Both the Elbe and the Yamuna are central to Hamburg’s and Delhi’s futures and there are various, very involved discussions around them, intensified by current challenges facing water issues. There is great public interest in the subject, even though the dialogues may be different in each place. It is expected to be one of the prime and most visible public projects during the project series “Germany and India 2011-2012”, and also coincides with the India week in Hamburg, celebrating Hamburg having been nominated as the European Green Capital 2011.

The Project

The key component of the project will be public art projects on the banks of the river Yamuna in Delhi and the river Elbe in Hamburg.

  • Curators

Two curators, Ravi Agarwal from Delhi and Till Krausewith Nina Kalenbach from Hamburg, have been invited to co-curate the project. Ravi Agarwal is a well-acclaimed Indian artist and also a practicing environmentalist. Till Krause is a well know land artist from Hamburg who also runs an art-space.

  • The Artists

Acclaimed Indian and German artists have been invited to participate in producing on-site installations, which will be on show for two weeks in each city. They will deal with the discourse around the river. Each artist has conceptualized a work that highlights important issues related to the rivers – be they ecological, developmental, socio-cultural, or religious.

In Delhi, the participating artists are Asim WaqifAtul BhallaGigi Scaria, and Sheba Chhachhi from India and Nana Petzet and Jochen Lempert from Germany, with contributions by Vivan Sundaram and Till Krause.

In Hamburg, the participating artists are Atul BhallaNavjot AltafRavi AgarwalSheba Chhachhi, and Vivan Sundaram from India and from Germany, Daniel SeipleAnna MöllerJochen Lempert, and Ines Lechleitner with in collaboration with Prof. Vikram Soni from Delhi

There will also be a Elbe/Yamuna show within a art exhibition at both places.

  • The Site for Project Y in Delhi

  • DDA Silver Jubilee Park

  • Geeta Colony (across Silver Jubilee Park)

The site has been carefully chosen as it gives an easy access to the river Yamuna, thus allowing maximum engagement with the river as well as both its banks.

An Eco-friendly Project

The power requirements of the project will be met by use of solar energy and eco-friendly fuel. All the material used by the artists to produce their works will be eco-friendly and most of it is also recycled material.

Outreach & Educational Activities

  • School Outreach Programme: This will include

  • Art installation making from collected trash

  • Interschool poster-making competition

  • Interschool debate on urban development and sustainability

  • Eco-walks

Participating schools will include NDMC, MCD schools, private schools, NGO organizations for children such as Deepalaya, Kendriya / Sarvodaya Vidyalaya as well as schools from the German PASCH-network.

  • River Walks: Historians such as Sohail Hasmi and environmentalists such as Vimlendu Jha will conduct walks around the Yamuna as well as Delhi’s water systems to sensitize the general public as well as school children to their natural heritage and the impact of urban development on it.

  • Public Discussions on subjects related to the river and the environment will also take place.

  • Films and Musical Concerts: Films on the water and the Yamuna will be screened. A classical musical event will be organized by the river Yamuna.

  • Writing workshops

Project partners for the outreach and educational activities include:

Toxics Link, World Wildlife Fund, Swechha, Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art, KHOJ International Artists’ Association,A Wall is a Screen, and several important historians and environmentalists in their individual capacity.

Overall Significance of the Project

  • Cultural exchange at an international level

  • A project that will build awareness about the importance of the river as an urban entity as well as specifically of the River Yamuna

  • A project that involves the youth of the city

  • A project that involves important cultural and ecological thinkers and intellectuals from the city

  • Experience of the river in interesting yet educational ways

  • An eco-friendly project

  • A well documented project which will have a combined website, a manifesto and maps of the River Yamuna

Two rivers, two cities but an interconnected future. River ecologies have been cradles of civilization and some of the most vibrant cities in the world lie along them. Today as local interconnectivities become more global, contesting views of the river, predicated on technology and capital have emerged. Rivers are increasingly seen as mere water channels, or even real estate. New threats of climate change have complicated the challenge.

The Max Muller Bhavan was hosting a 2 day seminar in Delhi on the 11th and 12th of December 2010. The seminar is also first in a series of events leading upto a public art festival, co curated by Ravi Agarwal and Till Krause, which takes place simultaneously inHamburg and Delhi in October/November 2011, on the theme of the ‘River.’

The seminar was conceived by Ravi Agarwal and organized by the Goethe Institute, New Delhi

Yamuna River

The Yamuna – uncertain river

The Yamuna river, has become a part of the new imaginary of the city of Delhi, capital of a newly globalizing nation state. Till even a few years ago the riverbank in the city was the resting place for its detritus. Waste, junk, waste-pickers, slum dwellers, all the outcasts of the city could be found here, along with sand dredgers and vegetable farmers. Most other citizens had not even seen the river, let alone touch it. The city planners, eager as always to appropriate more land, reluctantly had to leave the flat wide riverbed alone, since it flooded at least once every year, during the monsoons. The river overflowed onto its flood plain and was prevented from entering the city only owing to the high embankments constructed on both sides. For most of the other part of the year it remains a sewage canal.

On the riverbank are also sites of pilgrimage and of death, culturally deeply intertwined with ideas of life and afterlife. The holy river forms part of birth and death rituals of Hindus, its waters born of ancient myths of love and divinity, and metaphoric legends of the conquest of good over evil. So deep and consciousness forming is this imprint, that many in the city consider the smelly black river to be ‘pure,’ blind to its material state. Of more recent origins on its banks are the ‘temples’ of new India, power houses, sports stadiums, and bridges.

This riverbank is changing very rapidly. It has now been cleaned, fenced and straddled with new highways and flyovers. Over 50,00 slum dwellers have been violently removed, and the land converted into parks. Elsewhere high end housing has been built. Upstream, where the river is still cleaner, there are tourism plans being drafted and farming land has been acquired and converted into biodiversity parks. In a very short time, the forgotten land of waste has been transformed into a high value real estate, as the city has expanded on both sides of the river. The new Metro line now connects both the banks and beyond, and what was hitherto hidden is now open to view, and accessible. Alongside there is now a new and forceful demand to clean the river, as if driven by the new global self consciousness for the city’s new affluent citizens, and even the Courts have directed that the river be cleaned “like the Thames.” Likewise, the 2010 Commonwealth games athletes village was built on the riverbed, despite environmental objections and violations and premised on the idea that “India has arrived.”

It is no accident that many cities of Delhi have been located along the river for centuries. Between the high ground of the Delhi Ridge and the river Yamuna, the site provided for water and military security to its rulers. On it were forts ranging from the 14th century AD, but are now a little distant since the river has changed its course. Early Mogul kings extended channels from the river to flow through them, and to keep them cool in the hot summer months. Early records show trade and commerce, fishing and festivities on the river. New Delhi, as built by the British however left the riverside for more imperial location on a nearby hill, and quickly the river fell from the imagination of the cities rulers. It was this what independent India inherited, both physically but also as an idea of the river’s relationship to the emergent nation.

The pre-historic 1200 km long river, flows for 48 km through the city, starting at Palla village and exiting at Badarpur. 22 km of this length is through a starkly contrasting rural landscape, where people still cultivate vegetables, grain, hay and marigolds. The economy is local, with villagers depending on livestock, farming and fishing. At the end of this stretch lies the barrage of Wazirabad, where the waterworks are located, and which supply Delhi drinking water. After this point, it seems the river does not matter anymore, and it changes beyond recognition.. Over its remaining stretch in the city, 22 drains carrying the city’s sewage hit the river, converting it literally to a sewage drain. The water is stinking and very polluted, as it flows through New Delhi, carrying the muck of its over 15 million inhabitants. Once, the same river formed a complex network of a water system. Delhi was in a natural bowl between the Ridge and the river and water collected in lakes and marshes. The 22 drains were fresh water channels, which linked these to the river, besides acting as flood back flow escapes for a river when it was in spate. However, now as the city has developed rapidly, with no recognition of its water flows and its natural orientation, the water channels have been criss crossed, covered with concrete and carry only sewage.

What is however less known is the startling fact that the river does not really exist as one. Upstream of Delhi, in the adjoining State of Haryana, the river waters are diverted into the Western and Eastern Yamuna Canals, to irrigate agricultural fields. A lot of water is used up here, as farming practices over the past few decades have included very water intensive crops like rice, after the Green Revolution in India. The canals return some of water back to the river barely 50km upstream of Delhi, which is the city’s drinking water which is cleansed at Wazirabad.. Beyond this point, barely 5% of the river carries fresh water whilst the rest is sewage. The Yamuna is a ‘river’ which does not flow!

The water that does reach the city serves barely serves its water needs. However the water available to each citizen is not equal, as it follows the city’s political structures. Hence the prime areas where the seat of the national government is located are provided ten times water per person as compared to what those who live on the city’s less fortunate areas are supplied. It is not uncommon to witness street squabbles over water. Of course, only those who have water can create sewage. Not only is the river water used to serve the elite, but also consequently it carries their sewage too!

With the city appropriating the river back into its gaze, there is fresh demand to ‘clean’ the river, especially from the city elite. This is the new ‘view.’ Though there have been major plans and a huge amount of money already spent to clean the river in the past, all have failed. The current proposals however are the most ambitions in terms of resources needed. There are demands to channelize the river to a small narrow flow, instead of the wide riverbed. This, it is said, will allow land to be freed up for fresh commercialization and urbanization. Linked to the idea of a clean river is the new requirement of land for those who can afford such housing and it is invested in by international capital. It is no surprise that the Commonwealth Games village has been built by a large international developer and its flats are being allotted to the rich and powerful.

The river will now be cleaned, not as an ecological river, but as a glittering necklace fit for the city’s new found status. What will however flow even then is treated sewage, not fresh water. The river may be cleaned, but it will not be the river it is or meant to be. It is nature as a commodity, and as part of a global commerce.

The river has become a metaphor for contemporary times. It ecological functions are being converted to ornamental ones. Nature which shaped the city once, is now being shaped by contemporary relationships of capital and power, instead of as a democratic idea of a common future.

Ravi Agarwal
Nov 2010

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