The Curator #19

The Curator #19

We are living in the time of greater environment crisis. Our land, air, and water are heavily polluted. It has become so common and dangerous that we have even turned a blind eye towards the issue. As if it is not happening. Many rivers in our country are extremely polluted. They churn out chemical foams. The thick smog in many parts of the country have risked thousands of lives. Have we ever thought what can we do about these issues? As artists, curators, teachers, pedagogues, art lovers how can we use art to raise our voice against this situation. Most importantly, how can we use curation to address this issue? How can we shake up people who are ignoring this ecological disaster? Can curators and artists across the world come together and imagine a possibility to create an awareness, and throw some light on the magnitude of the situation? Art and curation are not only to create beautiful exhibitions, but they are also tools for social change.



In this issue of Art1st’s “The Curator” series we discuss about the ‘Yamuna-Elbe. Public.Art.Ecology’ curated by Ravi Agarwal (Delhi) and Till Krause with Nina Kalenbach (Hamburg). We will see how by bringing two rivers from different countries Yamuna and Elbe, curators have tried to connect the ecological issues. We will also see how artists from these two countries created art projects by their involvement with these two rivers.


The Curator #19

Curators: Ravi Agarwal (Delhi) and Till Krause with Nina Kalenbach (Hamburg)

Exhibition: Yamuna-Elbe. Public.Art.Ecology, 2011

Venue: Yamuna and Elbe


Ravi Agarwal

Ravi Agarwal is an artist, environmental activist, writer and curator. He has pursued an art practice integrally with his other pursuits. His earlier work, in the documentary oeuvre, encompasses ‘nature’, ‘work,’ ‘labour,’ and the ‘street.’ His current interest span questions around ecology and society, urban space and capital in interrelated ways. He works with photographs, video, and public art.


Atul Bhalla

This was a public art and outreach project initiated by the Ministry of Culture, Hamburg, and carried out in the framework of “Germany and India 2011-2012: Infinite Opportunities”.

The participating artists in the two cities were:

Delhi: Asim Waqif, Atul Bhalla, Gigi Scaria, and Sheba Chhachhi from India and Nana Petzet and Jochen Lempert from Germany, with contributions by Vivan Sundaram and Till Krause.


Gigi Scaria

Hamburg: Atul Bhalla, Navjot Altaf, Ravi Agarwal, Sheba Chhachhi, and Vivan Sundaram from India and from Germany, Daniel Seiple, Anna Möller, Jochen Lempert, and Ines Lechleitner with in collaboration with Prof. Vikram Soni from Delhi.


Asim Waqif

As part of this project various school outreach activities were conceptualized which included

Art installation making from collected trash, Interschool poster-making competition, Interschool debate on urban development and sustainability, and Eco-walks.

This also featured

River Walks: Historians such as Sohail Hasmi and environmentalists such as Vimlendu Jha will conduct walks around the Yamuna as well as Delhi’s water systems to sensitize the general public as well as school children to their natural heritage and the impact of urban development on it.

Public Discussions on subjects related to the river and the environment will also take place.

Films and Musical Concerts: Films on the water and the Yamuna will be screened. A classical musical event will be organized by the river Yamuna.

Writing workshops



According to Ravi, “With the city appropriating the river back into its gaze, there is fresh demand to ‘clean’ the river, especially from the city elite. This is the new ‘view.’ Though there have been major plans and a huge amount of money already spent to clean the river in the past, all have failed. The current proposals however are the most ambitions in terms of resources needed. There are demands to channelize the river to a small narrow flow, instead of the wide riverbed. This, it is said, will allow land to be freed up for fresh commercialization and urbanization. Linked to the idea of a clean river is the new requirement of land for those who can afford such housing and it is invested in by international capital. It is no surprise that the Commonwealth Games village has been built by a large international developer and its flats are being allotted to the rich and powerful.”


Elbe Walk


The exhibition connected two different rivers, and two cities but with an interconnected future. It emphasized that river ecologies have been cradles of civilization and some of the most vibrant cities in the world lie along them. Today as local interconnectivities become more global, contesting views of the river, predicated on technology and capital have emerged. Rivers are increasingly seen as mere water channels, or even real estate. New threats of climate change have complicated the challenge. This exhibition tried to foreground these issues.


Project partners for the outreach and educational activities included:

Toxics Link, World Wildlife Fund, Swechha, Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art, KHOJ International Artists’ Association,A Wall is a Screen, and several important historians and environmentalists in their individual capacity.


Sheba Chhachi

Let us discuss how can we use art and curation to address issues of environmental crisis. How can we do an exhibition on the ecological crisis. Feel free to share your thoughts, comments, and suggestions.

  • Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st




Shambhavi Singh: Living on the periphery

“However far I travel, I walk with memories of my earth. Remembrance of sights, sounds, the soil, the people and the chaos. Through all this I pursue my art so that I can distil that something which is eternal and simple.”

 – Shambhavi Singh on her roots and influences from her hometown, Patna, Bihar.

Housed in Chilla village near the banks of the Yamuna is artist Shambhavi Singh’s studio where she welcomed the Delhi batch of 2013-14 of the Partner a Master mentorship program to come and be mentored by her.

Shambhavi’s works have always been influenced by the frugal, involved life of the farmer. She discovered the importance of land and the farmers who nurtures the land at a young age and that is what she wanted the participants to discover through the experience of the workshop.
After explaining the significant role the farmer plays in her works and relevance of the subject in a modern, urban framework, she asked the children to think about it and draw their perception of the situation they imagine on a circular piece of paper.

The wheels of the twenty-one minds in the room jerked into motion and ideas quickly filled onto the strangely, but very thought provoking, shaped paper. Whilst one child utilised the shape by drawing a reflection of a framer and the sky in a well, another decided to highlight the heart wrenching rate of farmer suicides.

It was commendable to note that even though all of the participants were born and brought up in an urban landscape, they were aware and sensitive to the present situation of rural India, where the livelihood of farmer is at stake.

To get more inspiration for their work and actually observe the hardship faced by farmers in today’s fast urbanising framework the students and the artist went the Yamuna bed farmlands, where they met villagers from nearby villages, who shared their experience of displacement due to the Yamuna flooding over every year. She wanted them to feel the struggle and helplessness that the farmer and his family feel and translate that into art.

Back at her studio, Shambhavi made a comfortable space for the students in the heart of the various pieces of her ongoing project, where each one shared what they had seen and how their understanding of a farmer’s life, as being almost a bystander to the rest of our lives, had evolved after the field trip. They went on to do a watercolour sketch of what they had observed.

She additionally wanted them to work with cotton pulp, which was an exciting, volatile new medium for the students. The purpose of this was to shift from basic annotations to the more challenging three dimensional formations of observations. Shambhavi inspired them to express their thoughts in a simplified minimalistic manner without making them craft objects. She introduced them to the technique of using and sculpting in pulp. After creating the desired form, they applied paint with brushes and their hands.

The aim of her project was to make the students come out of their comfort zone and concentrate on creating artistic memories, the nuances of which stays with them long after the 16 hour process spent with her. She wanted them to experience what the farmer feels like, barely hanging on to the periphery of our existence, while ironically being vital to our survival.