A city relates to rivers in more than one way. For citizens in New Delhi, the Yamuna has been, over the years, a water system that integrates sewage, disposal, and at best, the settlements on its bank or the bridges that run across it - a landmark when commuting towards the North of Delhi.
An ideal descriptor for the river, however, would be a legacy of myth, folklore and a calming presence in a civilized city devoid of water bodies. In this light, the Yamuna.Elbe Project, an art and outreach initiative in the framework of the on-going year of Germany in India program, “Germany and India 2011-2012: Infinite Opportunities” opened to a tender, appreciative response from citizens, artists, environmental activists and curators involved in public art projects alike. This is an initiative that runs parallel to the one at Hamburg, around the river Elbe.
At the Golden Jubilee Park, the site of the project, the serene yet celebratory spirit of the project reflects in the muted natural light, the earthy colours of the installations and the artworks littered across the park. The amphitheatre, constructed with gunny bags full of sand from the bank of the river, overlooks Sheba Chhachhi’s installations made of thermocol and iron wrapped in bandages and Asim Waqif ‘s strings of lit scrap plastic bottles pulled by boats. Chhachhi’s installations have been placed on the river itself; they represent organic bodies wounded over time.
Director for South Asia of the Max Mueller Bhavan in New Delhi, Heiko Sievers addressed the gathering in his welcome speech by drawing attention to a fact - that everyone present was actually standing on a flood plain that had been brought into use for public use and recreation, that if one were to dig a few meters into the ground, instead of water, there would be layers and layers of scraps and plastic bags. He elaborated and opened up dialogue for further discourse with the observation, that it was men who determined the state of nature around them. Also present on the occasion was the Secetary of State Culture, City of Hamburg, Dr. Hill.
Mr.Tripathi spoke his personal connection with rivers, fondly reminiscing his a childhood spent close to a river in his native village. He referred to the Yamuna as ‘chanchal’ or one that was not to be tamed.
Emphasising the need to perceive rivers beyond the superficial parameters of ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’, Ravi Agarwal, the curator for this initiative, urged the common man to engage in questions pertaining to the inherent toxicity of the river, and engineers, artists and initiators to draw from thoughts on the river, translate them into action, furthering dialogue for citizens about the state of the river.
The provocative and engaging nature of the installations was also apparent in the outlandishly large bottles designed by Atul Bhalla, based on the 54 questions that the Yaksha asked Yudhishthira in the Mahabharat. While the questions posed against each bottle appear existential at first, they personify the predicament of the river itself, such as ‘what is my poison?”, “What is my fault?”, “What is my reason?” and so on.
Other collaborating artists Ines Lechleitner, Jochen Lempert, Michael Clegg, Martin Guttmann and Nana Petzet displayed installations ranging from a biodiversity patch using an existing patch of grass and planting photographs of birds, insects and flowers in them, to Gigi Scaria’s “Fountain of Purification” – a 24-foot tower representing an apartment complex that draws water from the Yamuna, runs it through a few levels of purification, and dispenses clean water from the top.
These marvellous works of art along the banks of the historic river are open to the public till the 20th of November 2011.