Thukral & Tagra’s ‘Sustaina India’ trains the spotlight on climate change


Deep within the temperate coastal rainforests of British Columbia, towering trees have stood for centuries, their ancient growth forming a vibrant tapestry of green that seems to encapsulate the very breath of the Earth. For Manjot Kaur, a contemporary artist dividing her time between the urbanity of Chandigarh and the natural splendor of Vancouver, these forest forays were revelatory. Kaur, originating from the industrial town of Ludhiana in Punjab, found herself captivated by this symbiotic relationship, where humanity and forest exist in a mutual embrace of give-and-take.

Capturing this profound connection is Kaur’s video installation at Sustaina India, an innovative art event taking place at Bikaner House in New Delhi, aiming to draw the public’s attention to the ever-urgent issue of climate change. Her work, The Parliament of Forests, stands as a testament to the belief that nature deserves its own set of unalienable rights. Influences for her piece sprung from acclaimed thinkers such as French philosopher Bruno Latour and American academics Donna Harroway and eco-feminist Carolyn Merchant.

The inaugural showcase of Sustaina India has been nurtured over 18 months through an intellectual symbiosis between the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), a thought-leading New Delhi-based think tank, and the talents of multi-disciplinary artists Jiten Thukral and Sumir Tagra. This collaboration germinated from a startling realization: most Indians live in regions highly susceptible to extreme climate phenomena. The initiative seeks to bridge the gaps between policy-making, public consciousness, and practical action via the transformative power of art.

Thukral and Tagra, renowned for their socially conscious oeuvre, have crafted climate change-oriented Game Plays post-pandemic, serving as tactile engagements that reconnect individuals with environmental issues minus the need for technology.

Further expressions of this dialog are evident elsewhere in Bikaner House. Artist Debasmita Ghosh presents Living With The Land, a contemplative art installation juxtaposing mud and cement – emblematic of the transition faced by the Kondh community in Orissa from natural to industrial building materials. Ghosh’s engagement with the tribal hamlet since 2018 hasn’t yielded solutions but rather illuminated the journey of the community’s women—showing the transformation’s emotional and practical impacts on their lives.

In another piece, Mumbai-based environmentalist and artist Rachna Toshniwal extends an invitation to ponder over the concept of waste with her installation There Is No Such Thing Called Waste. Over a table lies a net strewn with colorful but discernible waste converted into sculptural objects, collected from the shores of Alibaug with assistance from the women of Naari Shakti SHG. Her work speaks to the natural cycle of reuse and the importance of recognizing the intrinsic value of even the discarded.

The thematic thread binding these works is a profound reflection on the nexus of art and environmental activism. Thukral and Tagra, driven by a dedicated focus on climate change over the past eight years, aspire to seed mainstream conversations on the subject across significant art platforms—from popular fairs to notable galleries and museums. For them, art serves a dual purpose: as a vessel for poetic expression and a tool for problem-solving.

Their experiential practice, deeply embedded in events like Sustaina India, has fostered an optimism that the arts can indeed provide proof of concept for wider societal endeavors. They believe that art, in its myriad forms, has the capacity to ignite not just a discourse but also catalyze tangible progress in the collective fight against climate change.

Sustaina India opened its doors to public engagement and discourse until February 15 at Bikaner House, proffering not just art but a clarion call beckoning the necessity for ecological mindfulness and stewardship.

This report originates from an observer dedicated to covering the intersections of culture, lifestyle, and technology.

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