Art exhibit draws attention to filthy Indian river

November 18, 2011 - 5:40 AM
India Polluted River Art

In this Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011 photo, an Indian drummer, part of an installation art, performs standing on a small island amidst polluted waste of the river Yamuna at an exhibition titled:

NEW DELHI (AP) — The fetid, sewage-filled Yamuna River is an unlikely setting for a large-scale art installation.

But organizers of Project Y are hoping their works will attract art lovers who rarely venture onto its filthy banks and draw attention to the chronic pollution of a river worshiped as holy by Hindus.

The public art initiative, with works by four Indian artists and five Germans, aims to raise awareness of the sad state of the Yamuna by linking it with Germany's far cleaner Elbe — where a similar exhibition is being mounted.

"Everyone here knows the river is polluted and dirty, but I want to re-awaken the idea of ecology for it. We want people to come and see what the river is all about for themselves," said Ravi Agarwal, a co-curator of the project.

So near the rusting Loha Pul Bridge, where locals wash their clothes, floats a sculpture of the female form below the waist. Its legs trap the Yamuna's bounty: discarded plastic bottles, marigold garlands thrown in the river by worshipers and a pig carcass.

Among other installations are Gigi Searia's Fountain of Purification, which pumps water from the river through five levels of a tower before spurting "pure water" from the top. Even that purified water is still brown and putrid.

Despite a Supreme Court ruling ordering the cleanup of a river that supplies 70 percent of New Delhi's water, the Yamuna remains filthy. Billions of dollars in government spending have had little effect and environmentalists blame the haphazard placement of sewage treatment plants as well as fights over water management between different states.

Artist Asim Waqif has installed a long stretch of plastic bottles down the middle of the Yamuna, which he says expresses the river goddess' anger at the pollution.

"The goddess of the river has always been here to wash away people's sins," Waqif said. She was never supposed to wash away sewage, he said.

A few people wandered the banks one recent afternoon to see the art; organizers estimate between 150 to 200 come every day.

"Some of it is OK, but I don't understand it," said Shamiba Seth, who came to see the exhibit.

As for a river cleanup?

"I would like to see it happen, but don't think it will as it is such a mess," she said.