Hatchfund funding request video from 2015 leading up to the beginning of the project.
In 2014, Alberto Rey had a solo museum exhibition at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. That project outlined the history and present conditions of the Scajaquada River. The river was buried under the city of Buffalo in the 1800’s as a way to keep from dealing with the smell and pollution found in the water. Parts of the river remain buried and it continues to be polluted even as it is monitored by state and federal organizations. My research and installation took about three years to put together, and it presented the complexity of how economy, government policies, lack of planning, lack of accessible information and climate change can dramatically erode an environmental and cultural asset.
It was during this installation that Alberto was approached to consider doing a similar project about the Bagmati River that flows though the middle of Kathmandu, Nepal. The Bagmati is the most sacred river in Nepal and yet it is also the most polluted. Alberto was excited about starting a new environmental project in Asia and about working with a region with several UNESCO heritage sites and a community with a rich cultural heritage. After initial discussions with professionals, museum staff and community members in Kathmandu, it was clear that there was a great deal of interest in having me starting the new project investigating the Bagmati River. Alberto was granted a residency at the Kathmandu Contemporary Arts Center a few months later, and my research began in earnest. Jason Dilworth, Alberto’s colleague and socially-conscious graphic designer, joined the venture early in 2016. His work has been integral to the project’s success. During our first trip to Kathmandu in March of 2016, we were able to strengthen past that were made over the internet while also enlarging our network of individuals and groups committed to improving conditions in the Kathmandu Valley. Financial support for the Bagmati River Arts Project grew steadily from the beginning through the assistance of Hatchfund donors, travel support through SUNY Fredonia and a Burchfield Penney Art Center grant. It has also supported through the sales of this project’s publication and the sales of my artwork from other projects.
The Bagmati River Arts Project includes:
- an exhibition at the Siddhartha Art Gallery at Barbar Mahal Revisited in Kathmandu which opened on November 20th, 2016. My artwork and documentary on the project was exhibited with Jason’s charts on water data about the Bagmati River. The exhibition also included artwork and videos by Nepalese artists whose attention focuses with issues related to the Bagmati River. We also worked with the fine art faculty and students at Kathmandu University who created posters related to the river’s condition.
- a full-color publication was published in 2017 which documented the project and the cultural importance of the Bagmati River, the cause of the pollution, climate change effects on the Kathmandu Valley and its groundwater, and plans to improve the condition of the river. The role of this publication, like the exhibition, is to use aesthetics as a way to make the scientific data accessible to a wider audience. Nepalese artists’ work about the Bagmati were also included in the book. The publication was made available in Kathmandu at no cost to the residents to assure wide dissemination of its data to diverse communities. It is also available outside of Nepal and is sold as a way to fund the remainder of this project and future projects.
- a documentary video was also created to document the project. It includes interviews with water quality specialists, health professionals, community members as well as policy makers in Kathmandu. Songs by traditional Nepalese folk singers are incorporated throughout the video including a commissioned song about the Bagmati River.
- Bagmati pollution posters designed by students from professors, Sujan Chitrakar and Kaushal Joshi, from Kathmandu University’s School of Art, Center for Art and Design.
- a website archiving the project and documenting the important data collected by Bagmati River Expedition 2015 team who created a comprehensive report about the river’s water quality, microinvertebrates, avian population and plastics found in the river.
All elements of the project listed above presented at the opening of the exhibition in November 20, 2016.
An exciting extension to this project is the plan to tour the project around the country and, possibly, internationally. Water issues are a worldwide concern and the Bagmati’s perils are not unique. Our hope is that, by touring the exhibition and by combining it with site-specific exhibitions, audiences can create connections between their region and other global communities. There is a good deal that can be learned from the history of the Bagmati as well as from the grass roots efforts that created the Saturday Bagmati River clean-up program and the successful community health initiatives supported by the non-government organizations. All of these efforts has unified the underserved residents of the Kathmandu Valley to address the basic needs in their communities while creating hope and motivating government involvement.
The Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, New York is very interested in the merits of the project and have volunteered to promote and organize the touring exhibition.
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Before first research trip to Nepal
Prior to the first research trip to Nepal in March of 2016, Alberto had researched many government reports and articles about the cultural importance and causes of pollution related to the Bagmati River. A residency was also secured at the Kathmandu Contemporary Arts Center in the Patan Museum. Alberto also contatced Dr. David Gillette, Associate Professor in Environmental Studies at University of North Carolina, Ashville, who was working on a Fulbright Award investigating the aquatic biodiversity of the rivers in Nepal. We planned on testing the water quality of the Bagmati River by collecting data and documenting various sites on the river. These sites include the headwaters of the river, various UNESCO Heritage Sites (Gokarneshwar, Guhyeshwari and Pashupatinath) located along the river’s banks and one final collection site as the river leaves the city. Members of Bagmati River Expedition 2015 were also contacted and their water data provided critical information about where the river’s pollution. Alberto also corresponded with Sangeeta Thapa, who is a prominent figure in Kathmandu’s educational system, cultural institutions, and community efforts to clean up the river. She provided an exhibition opportunity and set up interviews with community leaders, government leaders, journalists, musicians and artists whose work deals with issues related to the river. Alberto had also been discussing the project with Rajendra Suwal, Deputy Director of World Wildlife Fund Nepal, who was interested in working together to integrate the project with their Green Generation public educational initiative. The American Embassy staff in Kathmandu and I were also corresponding about opportunities to work together through their Arts Envoy Program which introduces American artists to Nepalese community groups and schools. A website was also created for the project. Additional scientific data was collected through other professionals in the field.
Activities during the first research trip
Please see blog for full details and images.
After first research trip
Upon returning to the United States after my residency in Kathmandu in March of 2016, Jason and Alberto dedicated dedicate June, July, August, September and October to researching and writing the chapter essays, designing the publication, creating artwork for publication and exhibition, transcribing the interviews, editing the videos for the documentary, and working with publisher to get book printed and delivered to Nepal by November of 2016.
Return for second research trip to Nepal
In November 2016, we returned to Kathmandu to disseminate my findings to the community and government through lectures and an exhibition at the Siddhartha Gallery where excerpts of the books were also presented as text panels, graphs on water quality and imagery showing the progression of pollution and urbanization along the river. Nepalese artwork related to the artists’ cultural interaction with the river was also presented. This exhibition was critical towards strengthening connections between the communities and government and providing data, future projections and possible solutions in an accessible manner. The documentary on the project was also be presented in the gallery along with posters designed by the students and faculty at Kathmandu University.
After second research trip to Nepal
Upon our return to the United States after the November 2016 trip to Kathmandu, we updated the website and began preparations to have the exhibition, book and documentary tour under the supervision of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Buffalo, NY. The museum, which has presented my work in the past, is very interested in the Bagmati River Arts Project and the concept of building global connections through the investigation of water. They have committed to promoting the book and preparing the contents of the publication as an installation that will tour throughout and outside the United States. As the exhibition, publication and documentary are presented at different venues, they will also be able to present customized lectures that will connect regional bodies of water to global issues. These presentations will create connections with the community and will link the viewer’s everyday experiences to those of the residents in other parts of the globe.
Additional copies of the project’s publication were also distributed to appropriate venues or sold to the public.
For the past decade, Jason and Alberto have been working on projects that examine the local bodies of water near the exhibition venues. When the regional investigations are included with other investigations from regions around the country and the world, the audience can make connections between their local region and other parts of the world. These publications and installations are complex, ambitious, and include informational books and with extensive text panels that outline the issues related to the bodies of water. The panels and publications include maps of the bodies of waters being investigated; water samples with scientific data outlining their chemical breakdown and pollutants; and images, graphs and videos from the data collection sites. Jason and Alberto look forward to working together on other projects that make complicated environmental issues more accessible so that positive change can occur locally and globally.