There’s no escaping air pollution whether you’re in Delhi, Chennai or in the forests of Chattisgarh. An exhibition titled Breathless: An Artistic Call To India’s Air Pollution Crisis brings to focus on how the air we breathe in is slowly choking us. It features over 60 images by photographer Ishan Tankha and stories by journalist Aruna Chandrasekhar, organised in conjunction with Help Delhi Breathe and Clean Air Collective.
Air pollution is the uniting theme for these images from cities like Bengaluru, Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Guwahati, Varanasi.
Chandrasekhar explains how the exhibition aims at portraying ordinary people fighting extraordinary diseases as a result of the pollution, and of ordinary people fighting against extraordinary forces of authority and the state workers who clean up after citizens and risk their health in doing so.
“There are so many stories that present the data about the number of deaths that occur due to air pollution. I have been writing on environment for a while and I’ve had my own family members tell me that they couldn’t get to the end of these stories sometimes. So, Ishan and I decided to present personal stories where people could relate to what was actually going on,” says Chandrasekhar.
The exhibition with its pictures and accompanying texts highlights how we have forgotten to ask basic questions such as where does our food come from? Or where does the power used by the entire nation come from? And at what costs are these things distributed? The common thread between the questions, however, is air pollution thus bringing forward stories from Punjab, Chattisgarh and Mumbai. It also points out how most stories on pollution and data is mostly Delhi-centric and does not reflect the larger picture. “We are calling for a public health emergency.
Those visiting the exhibition are asked to write their thoughts and petitions which will then be presented to the government authorities. “In fact, the pens kept at the exhibition for writing these placards is filled with ink upcycled through pollution,” says Chandrasekhar, who plans to take the exhibition to Chennai and Mumbai, followed by Raipur and Varanasi. The duo also plan on mixing up the curation as the exhibition travels and make the images available for school, colleges and media to use.
“Now that the elections are over, we want parties to put aside their defences and work in tandem towards this issue which is a public crisis. Also, what are these policy makers actually going to do? Before the great North Indian smog, also known as the Delhi winter, hits the countries and international publications write about what’s obvious – the hazardous air levels – we want to bring it to the attention of India’s lawmakers,” concludes Chandrasekhar.