by Samar S Jodha
Bhopal-A Silent Picture
Two Olympics back, in 2012, London was hosting the summer games, with DOW chemicals as their sponsor, yes, the owners of Union Carbide, the MNC with blood on their hands of thousands in that chemical poisoning. The “all is well” brands are very good at Profits from all but Responsibility towards none.
The first challenge was that it was March/4, months before the games opened. London was under a high-security alert with planning/permits already in place. And I wanted to arrive with the Bhopal project with no location plans during the biggest show on the planet.
The second challenge was there was no way we could build this enormous container in India and put it on a ship for its timely arrival into London, and sail it through various security apparatus.
The first step, the super Divya Thakur, as the designer steps in (who had earlier designed the India showings), we set off to create the experience of that cold Dec. night of 1984. Fabricate a 40′ container, a metaphoric train journey with a sound piece, smoke machine, single degree temp to match that night and names/tribute to the thousands who died on that dreadful night.
While sitting in Dubai, struggling with budgets, fabrication, location, permissions/security clearances, logistical issues etc., I get a call from Amnesty International out of London (a journalist friend John Elliott had ref/reported this project on BBC) wanting to know if they could host the showing (but with a low budget)
So, where is the money for this big gig in the sky? My stretched $s were short of a make-or-break situation. There walks in another gem of a human being, Raza Beig (who runs more than a successful fashion brand, is a significant collector of art and a prominent philanthropist), with an open chequebook to take care of this venture should happen.
The next task, buy a 40′ container in London and store & insured (liability issues are critical in that part of the world) plus the contracts and the legal paperwork. And in comes Suzanne Alexander, who puts on her “Can Do” hat and makes sure no glitches and logistics run seamlessly.
Meanwhile, in Rochester, with all the designs/drawings by Divya, we set off a customised fabrication at an industrial design outfit. Also, with the capacity to handle crowds (so far in Asia/Europe/ US, we have clicked in over 250K walkthroughs)
Finally, Amnesty launched Bhopal-A Silent Picture/installation art project in London, with all their fanfare (prominent environmentalist activists, including Bianca Jagger, show up)
Post the show; one can’t pack up this gorilla and put it under the bed. So, after each show, it goes to a storage yard (with painful rental costs/insurance) But each time, hoping to take it to the next gathering, so when one has the $£€, ship it across oceans (Houston photo Biennale 2018), & at times miss a few like the Tokyo Olympics.
Bhopal is not some forgotten suffering but a reminder that daily BHOPALs are happening globally. Corporates and their lobbies in the public policy space are destroying not only the human lives/future of our children but also our planet’s fragile environment. Plus, throw in the hyper-consumption habits.
Personally, Bhopal is also about what can one do with the art practice, both for creativity (not art for art’s sake but a more significant social change/advocacy) And a voice (if one has discovered) you want to amplify in forums where you take the message to people on the street (why we love public art) and not limit oneself in a white cube gallery syndrome.
The most significant takeaway, your biz, talent, and ability to earn can get you the name, money, fame, or a slab of posterity when you are six feet under, but what will keep it shining is how you lived through the NOW.
I have been fortunate to have some seriously moneyed/collecter friends with wealth beyond ordinary imagination. And then I also have some superbly talented friends who are beyond billing their talent. What is impressive is some of them have always extended the above to my causes. They are the NOWs. They believe their money or talent can make a significant difference on issues I work on (at times, I am their personal CSR). My biggest gratitude to all of them.
Each of you is my Olympic Hero