This exhibit on climate change at Chennai’s DakshinaChitra displays stories from People’s Archive of Rural India

This two day exhibit walks us through the complexities of climate change and its consequences

September 06, 2023 04:02 pm | Updated 04:15 pm IST

Women work without shielding their eyes against the blazing whites of Thoothukudi’s salt pans

Women work without shielding their eyes against the blazing whites of Thoothukudi’s salt pans

The two-month long Bhin Bhini: Changing Climate, Uncertain Livelihoods exhibit at DakshinaChitra’s Varija Gallery looks beyond the frames of its pictures and art installations.

Bhin Bhini meaning numerous is a name given to aggressive hybrid pests that ravage crops. The visual exhibit aims to unpack the convoluted way in which climate change affects livelihoods, the precarity it has brought; and no it is not just about melting icebergs and rising temperatures.  

Nazrul Molla prays alongside his home in the Sundarbans ravaged by floods and cyclones

Nazrul Molla prays alongside his home in the Sundarbans ravaged by floods and cyclones

Krishnapriya CP, Chennai-based artist and cultural producer has carefully curated the exhibition which she calls a ‘living journal’ by borrowing heavily from the extensive People’s Archive of Rural India’s (PARI) stories on sustainability, livelihood and sustaining ecological systems. She has experimented with form, textures, scale and has taken liberties with light to make the exhibit a sensorial experience that triggers conscious thought.  

Krishnapriya says that her aim was to “create stories by looking at the extensive PARI archive. I was not looking only at the notion of climate change. I was thinking about precarity, loss of livelihood practices , practices directly linked to climate change. For instance, artists, craft practices, and even inflation may not seem directly linked to climate change, but it is.“ With every image and art installation on display, the curator has aimed to break down the complexity of the subject by having a reading room, lessons on the jamakalam (rug) and a large collection of reading material provided by Foundation of Indian Contemporary Art (FICA), a Delhi based non-profit organisation. 

The exhibit is also fostering lessons by collaborating with Marudham Farm School, an alternative school in Tiruvannamalai. As one enters the display, the bright and airy gallery is punctuated by the call of crickets. Only later do you realise that it does not come from the lush greens of DakshinaChitra, but from a pre-recorded tape installed in the gallery. This is how the exhibit blends seamlessly with the environment.  

With haunting images from cyclone-hit Semmanjeri to Tamil Nadu’s chilli farmers, the cattle camps of Santara, damaged chillies that have turned white due to changing rain patterns, the looms of Onnupuram, and Karnataka’s hand pollinators are compelling images that make us pause.  

Damaged chillies have turned white due to changing rain patterns

Damaged chillies have turned white due to changing rain patterns

What further drives home the message of the exhibit are installations by independent artists who feel strongly about climate change and are interested in agriculture. One such piece is the image of a human body crucified on to an agricultural tool used in manual agricultural practices. The piece by V Prabhu is placed in a dark room devoid of bright lights to move spectators out of their everyday physical and spatial spaces to be able to look differently at pieces such as this which warrant understanding and sensitivity.  

Another telling piece is K Deepika’s sculpture of a dead sparrow which has a cluster of high rises annihilating its body. The work alludes to fewer sightings of house sparrows in urban neighbourhoods.

An installation at the exhibit

An installation at the exhibit

Further away, a suspended spine hangs from the ceiling. Moulded by artists Ravishankar, Sunil, Arumugam and Vengatesh Perumal, it is symbolic of the everyday agricultural worker’s spinal column and the abrasions on it by working timelessly in the fields under harsh weather conditions.  

In conclusion, Krishnapriya says, “As people, our situation is a lot like a white chilli that has gone waste due to unnatural rain cycles. Through the curated pieces I have tried to define a space for the audience where they can pause and respond.” 

The exhibition is till October 29, 10am to 6pm at Varija Art Gallery, DakshinaChitra, Muttukadu

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