Display from Smithsonian Institution in Chennai’s Water Matters exhibition for students

Water Matters, an ongoing exhibition in the city, in cooperation with the Smithsonian Institution, shines light on sustainable water management

“24, 25, 26…” chants the group of children gathered around a table at Periyar Science and Technology Centre in Kotturpuram. Their eyes trained at the dropper in the presenter’s hand, they count the number of water droplets as it drips on to a ₹2 coin, coalescing into a bigger drop. At number 27, there is a loud squeal — the droplet finally burst, spilling water on to the table.

Testing water’s properties, this was one of the experiments being held at the ongoing Water Matters exhibition. The US Consulate-General, along with Chennai NGO Care Earth Trust, have collaborated with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service to engage young people in particular, on the timely issue of water pollution and its sustainable management.

The exhibition, constructed like a tunnel, has 53 panels — some borrowed from Smithsonian’s H2O Today exhibition, others by Care Earth Trust, setting the knowledge into local context using evocative pictures from city photographers.

Display from Smithsonian Institution in Chennai’s Water Matters exhibition for students

It is a dive into the different aspects of water — the ancient calendars the water cycle gave birth to, physical properties of ice that has given way to life as we know it, the pumps and wells used to extract it. You can even try your hand at playing the musical instrument of jal tarang. Parts of the exhibition are aesthetically pleasing: a collection of traditional brass and copper vessels, used to collect water are displayed while on speaker, ‘Raindrops’ by Max ZT, from the House of Waters band, plays.

Others are evocative. Selvaraj R’s short film, Locker, is being screened. In three minutes, with just a single actor on screen and no words, the film manages to convey the desperation with which water needs to be conserved. Yet other sections are plain bizarre: a non-functional bathroom, complete with a commode, shower head and bucket juts out of a wall, to display one of the uses of water.

Drawing parallels

But the main thread running through the exhibition, is the need to focus on sustainable water management. The panels from Smithsonian and Care Earth draw parallels between the US and South India.

Display from Smithsonian Institution in Chennai’s Water Matters exhibition for students

“We brought senior geographer Doug Herman, a PhD scholar, to create this exhibition,” says Lauren Lovelace, Consul for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the US Consulate-General. Herman, who was at the time with the Smithsonian, travelled to South India in 2019 to lead the Water Matters curatorial process, working with local environmentalists, historians, and other stakeholders.

“He is now in Hawaii, where he does his research. He was able to bring to us the insight of how indigenous people from United States were able to bring sustainability to the use of water. He was also incredibly interested in the use of the eri system, and in the way temple tanks have been used to manage water needs,” she says.

A similar exhibition recently held in Bengaluru, titled Submerge, is also built upon the Smithsonian’s H2O Today. “Both Chennai and Bengaluru face water challenges, but we didn’t want to do the same exhibition in both places because the local environment is very different. For example, the use of temple tanks is not as relevant to Bengaluru as it is in Chennai. There we focussed on lake systems,” she says.

In the line-up
  • Discussion: Pasumai Ilakiyam: Oru Paarvai on February 20 at 4.30 pm in Environmental Pavilion, PSTC
  • Discussion: Shaping Societies on February 22 at 10.30 am in Madras Literary Society
  • Quiz: Water, Water! on February 22 at 2.30 pm in Environmental Pavilion, PSTC

The exhibitions in Chennai and Bengaluru are the result of an on-going exchange of knowledge between water management experts in the US and India. Municipal water expert Mehboob Patel, who heads an indirect potable reuse plant in Orange County, California, and Sudhir Murthy, head of innovation at DC Water (both hold doctorates) who have been doing a lot of work on water treatment and reuse, came to Tamil Nadu for discussions with policy makers here. “On one hand, they brought their insights here, on the other, they benefited from speaking with policy makers. They are looking to Tamil Nadu for ideas and future partnerships,” she says.

Alongside the exhibition, there will also be a host of performances, discussions and quizzes in the city.

The Water Matters exhibition is on at Periyar Science and Technology Centre, Kotturpuram until February 29, from 10.30 am to 5.30 pm. Call 28574148.

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 12:08:44 PM |

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