Where the river meets the sea: Photo exhibition narrates degradation of the Sunderbans
Panaji Dec 21 (IANS) How does a photographer give expression to the many stories of personal and ecological loss from the Sunderbans? She picks up her camera and focuses her lens on several themes as well as incidents to narrate the gradual loss that the Ganga-Brahmaputra basin is constantly facing.
"A Slow Violence: Stories from the largest river basin in the world" is a haunting and to a large extent disturbing exhibition that is on display at the ongoing Serendipity Arts Festival here. Curated by Dinesh Khanna the exhibition displays the photographs of Arati Kumar-Rao whose environment-focused stills have appeared in leading national and international publications.
The first image that one sees at this exhibition is an aerial view of the Sunderbans captured not at an ordinary time but in December 2014 when a cargo ship rammed an oil tanker moored in the Sunderbans in Bangladesh. The photograph shows a lone boat passing through the delta where the oil spill is clearly visible. Some 358 000 litres of heavy fuel oil spilled into the eco-sensitive region and the Unesco world Heritage Site has never been the same again.
"Slow-violence is neither spectacular nor instanteous and is borne by people away from the eye of graphic media and loud news-cycles. The social fallout of environmental degradation for example is a slow violence. It unfolds in temporal timescales its true implications manifesting over several generations and often in places far removed from the trigger points " the photographer Kumar-Rao who is working on her first book mentions in a note accompanying the exhibition.
The Sunderbans is the largest mangrove in the world home to many endangered species like the Royal Bengal Tiger and the Gangetic Dolphin they act as a buffer against storm surges and rising sea levels. But the exhibition shows that all is not well.
"In a startling show of apathy the government left the fisherfolk to clean the mess. Armed with nothing more than pots and pans sans gloves shoes or masks they sank all their time into it. Men women and children suffered skin respiratory and digestive issues " Kumar-Rao added as she introduced the next set of images.
In one of them half a body of a woman is seen with the oil-spilled delta in the backdrop. Her right hand the only one visible because of the angle from which the image was taken is marred in thick black tar. Her clothes are marred too.
The next three images take the onlookers right inside the settlements of the fishermen where they are seen "cleaning the mess". An old man is struggling to breathe another of his kind is seen collecting oil in a small jar and the third shows just two hands -- both marred in tar.
The last set of images consist of three separate photographs the first showing the rich eco-system of the region the second showing the daunting presence of the oil-spill at a much later date and the last is again an aerial shot of the delta.
The other half of the exhibition focuses on the livelihood aspect and brings presents some graphic images that evoke a sense that in the photographer s own words "the fishes have disappeared". Again divided into sets the photographs depict the impact of dams overfishing and similar issues in the Ganga-Brahmaputra basin.
(Saket Suman is in Goa at the invitation of the organisers of the Serendipity Arts Festival. He can be contacted at email@example.com)