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Monday, Oct 21, 2019

Aravalli Utsav: Why you need to be concerned about the environment

The Aravalli Utsav is not merely an exhibition of photographs, but photography as a means of social change, of spreading climate and ecological awareness.

art-and-culture Updated: Nov 11, 2017 14:12 IST

Sudeep Sen, Hindustan Times
Salt print photograms of leaves and grasses from Aravallis made using salt from Sambhar lake and mixed with Silver Nitrate
Salt print photograms of leaves and grasses from Aravallis made using salt from Sambhar lake and mixed with Silver Nitrate(Aditya Arya.)

“Climate change poses a powerful challenge to what is perhaps the single most important political conception of the modern era: the idea of freedom, which is central not only to contemporary politics but also to the humanities, the arts and literature,” writes Amitav Ghosh in his newest book, The Great Derangement. Sustainability, recycling, energy conservation, pollution and other such related issues are now under constant discussion due to the crisis our planet faces because of the alarming rate of climate change.

It is in this context that the multi-facetted ‘Aravalli Utsav’ exposition — superbly curated by the photographer-archivist, Aditya Arya, and his India Photo Archive Foundation — currently on show at Delhi’s India Habitat Centre, needs to be looked at. It is not merely an exhibition of photographs, but photography as a means of social change, of spreading climate and ecological awareness. It is also a wonderful example of meticulous documentation, disseminated in a simple, stylish, eco-friendly way. The use of natural materials providing harmony with the aesthetics of the overall project — ‘Aravallis’, ‘Land Art’, ‘Tattvas’ and ‘Panchtattvas’ — blending seamlessly together.

* * *

The main ‘Aravalli Utsav’ exhibition, hosted appropriately in the open air, features over 150 unframed digital photographic prints mounted on sun-board and hung on scaffoldings such as those used in building construction; the base held together and anchored by stones from the Aravallis. Apparently three truckloads of waste wood and stone were shipped from the region to the exhibition site.

Salt print photograms of leaves and grasses from Aravallis made using salt from Sambhar lake and mixed with silver nitrate.
Salt print photograms of leaves and grasses from Aravallis made using salt from Sambhar lake and mixed with silver nitrate. ( Aditya Arya. )

The photographs, wide and varied in range, shot over a period of a year, feature the unique artistic perspectives of eight young accomplished photographers: Ankur Dutta, Aoun Hasan Naqvi, Bhavesh Bhati, Manu Yadav, Mohit Agrawal, Prakhar Pant, Srishti Bhardwaj and Sandeep Biswas. This is supplemented by the work of three invited photographers: Anil Advani, Bharat and Vinod Goel.

The images span the entire gamut of photographic sub-genres — documentary, wildlife, street, portrait, landscape, creative and fine-art photography. Some of my favourite images include — sprightly goats perched precariously on hill slopes, leaf shadows on rock-faces, dense tree-clusters, bare branches as graphic art, panoramic panels with 3D interface, and the aggregated bird-eye montage-map of the entire Aravalli terrain.

A fascinating part of the larger exhibition is Aditya Arya’s own micro-show, ‘Tattvas’. It explores his deep personal fascination for, and practice of, vintage photographic processes — their tactility and analogue nature —‘cyanotype’, ‘anthotype’, ‘salt print’, and ‘gum bichromate’. These images are dream-like, haunting; almost ephemeral, ethereal and intriguingly abstract. “Tattva is a manifestation of my exploration and experimentation with dimensions of land and its many metaphors. These works evoke a layered dialogue with varied conceptual frameworks from defining moments in the development and evolution of photography,” says Arya. “It is a tribute to this special mountain range, and the collection presented here is a result of my exploratory visits over the last few years.”

* * *

The environmentalist filmmaker-photographer, Pradip Krishen, has curated another component, ‘Land Art’. It is an excellent example of inter-disciplinary dialogue that coalesces photography, art, geography, forestry, birding, ecology, and more. Aspects of ‘land art’ lend themselves to various creative forms — in this case, primarily the photographic and textual medium. So you have Krishen passionately discussing ‘dhau’, the iconic tree of the region; Arya exploring stonescapes, treescapes, skyscapes and landscapes through images. Additionally, among others, there is Sourajit Ghosal writing about the birds in the area; Vijay Dhasmana about the Bio-Diversity Park in Gurgaon; and artist-philosopher Shakti Maira etching memories of this region in a personal essay.

Texture of Aaravallis.
Texture of Aaravallis. ( Aditya Arya. )

“The Aravallis are our natural infrastructure — recharging our groundwater, holding back the sands of the desert, providing home to the little remaining forests and wild animals, cleaning the air and moderating the climate. The northern range, once richly forested, acted as a bulwark against the spread of the western desert. We stand to lose this valuable ‘service’ if we don’t treat these fragile hills right,” argue Pradip Krishen and Chetan Agarwal. “The most important reason for protecting these hills and re-growing the right kinds of natural forests on them is that they are a crucial part of the National Capital Region’s water security system. The Aravallis are our vital ‘Recharge Zone’ for this region. Its crystalline rocks, riddled with joints and fractures, are a means for rainwater to enter the earth to become priceless ‘fossil water’. This is how our aquifers are replenished and our cities would not be able to survive without it.”

* * *

A take-away from the festival is the two-volume Panchtattvas: The Road Ahead, carefully edited by the eminent art curator, Alka Pande. She says, “As the artistic director of ‘Photosphere’, at the first composite programme on photography and sustainability initiated by the Visual Arts Gallery of the India Habitat Centre, the seeds for ‘Tattva’ were sown. ‘Aravalli Utsav’ is part of our mission to bring the spotlight onto sustainability through visual arts.”

‘Panchtattvas’ denote the five elements and emblems of balance and synergy — earth, fire, ether, wind and water. The array of work here is fascinating, explored through various art forms such as photography, sculpture, installation art, and reportage — touching upon important issues such as land tenure, sustainable development, community, living planet, and the future. It also includes work by young photographers — Harikrishna Katragadda, K R Sunil, Monica Tiwari and Shraddha Borawake — four awardees of the ‘Photosphere’ fellowship — under the mentorship of Indian photography stalwarts like Bandeep Singh, Parthiv Shah, Prabir Purkayastha and Arya himself.

The multi-media ‘Aravalli Utsav’ is a highly recommended visit for all — and make sure you have time in hand to do justice to it. It is a fine and important example of an artistic and intellectual response to the most urgent phenomenon that currently faces our civilization — anthropocene.

* * *

Here are the two poems by the author:

Aravalli Diptych


Neem’s serrated leaves

outside my study

wears season’s toxicity

on her exposed skin —

wan arteries choked,

marking scant time.

Ash pollutants from

city power plants,

crop-stubble smoke from

neighbouring States —

pockmark, damage

every visible vein —

as tree leaf-ridges

struggle to supply life

to her pale-green lungs.

Air is thick, heavy,

unclean, unworthy.

Neem, once acted as

a filter for us,

now needs one herself.

* * *



Arrogance, avarice:

a real estate seduction —

brick blighted buildings

spurring breath-wheeze,

sly filial deceit.

Asthma bronchial blocks —

death-dust part-protected

by masks, Ventolin puffs —

more canned sprays,

and less fresh air to breathe.


Skeletal skyscrapers,

unfinished flyovers

collapse prematurely

burying people —

none held responsible.

Darkly efficient, untimely —

a fast-track to

our planet’s detonation.

Sudeep Sen is a poet and author of the books, Fractals and EroText.

WHAT: Aravalli Utsav

WHEN: Till November 20

WHERE: India Habitat Centre

CALL: 2468 2002


First Published: Nov 10, 2017 18:15 IST

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