In 2014, I 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 I was approached to consider doing a similar project about the Bagmati River that flows though the middle of Kathmandu, Nepal. I was excited about extending my body of work beyond the Western Hemisphere and to working with a culturally diverse community. After initial discussions with professionals, museum staff and community members in Kathmandu, it was clear that there was a great deal of interest in me starting a new project investigating the Bagmati River. I was granted a residency at the Kathmandu Contemporary Arts Center a few months later, and my research began in earnest. Jason Dilworth joined the venture early in 2016 and his work has been integral to the project’s success. During Jason’s and my first trip to Kathmandu in March of 2016, we were able to strengthen past connections to the project while building a larger network of individuals and groups committed to improving conditions in the Kathmandu Valley and the communities outside the valley who live along the river. Support for the Bagmati River Arts Project has grown steadily from the beginning through the assistance of Hatchfund donors, travel support through SUNY Fredonia and a Burchfield Penney Art Center grant. It has continued to grow through the sales of the project’s publications and the sales of my artwork.
The Bagmati River Arts Project includes:
- an exhibition at the Siddhartha Art Gallery at Barbar Mahal Revisited in Kathmandu opening on November 20th, 2016. My artwork, water data from the Bagmati River and the video documentary will be presented on the second floor. The first will include artwork by Nepalese artists whose attention focuses with issues related to the Bagmati River. We are also working with the fine art faculty and students at Kathmandu University who will be creating work related to their cultural connections to the river.
- a book is being published (available in November 2016) that documents the importance of the Bagmati River, the cause for 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. Artists from the United States and Nepal will be included in the publication. The publication will be made available in Kathmandu at no cost to the residents to assure wide dissemination of its data to a diverse communities. It also will be available in the United States and sold as a way to fund other parts of this project and future projects. A link to this finished book is available on this website.
- a documentary video will document the project and include interviews with water quality and health professionals, community members as well a policy maker in Kathmandu. Songs by traditional Nepalese folk singers are incorporated throughout the video including a commissioned song about the Bagmati River. A link to this finished documentary is available on this website.
- a brochure and poster written in Nepalese will also provide important accessible scientific and health data about the river. The poster and brochures will be distributed to the communities that live along the entire length of the river in Nepal. Members of the Bagmati River Expedition 2015 team, who created a comprehensive report about the river’s water quality, microinvertebrates, avian population and plastics data, have already established connections in these communities. We are working with Sujan Chitrakar and his graphic design students in designing the posters and brochures. Sujan is the Academic Program Coordinator and an Assistant Professor for Kathmandu University’s School of Art, Center for Art and Design.
All elements of the project listed above will be finished and presented at the opening of the exhibition in November 20, 2016 when Jason and I plan to return to Kathmandu.
An exciting extension to this project is the plan to ship the artwork, publication, documentary, brochures and posters back to the United States where it will tour 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 they have volunteered to promote and organize the touring exhibition.
For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alberto Rey – Distinguished Professor in the Department of Visual Arts and New Media at the State University of New York at Fredonia, Director and Founder of S.A.R.E.P. Youth Fly fishing Program, and Orvis Endorsed Fly Fishing Guide
Jason Dilworth – Assistant Professor in the Department of Visual Arts and New Media at the State University of New York at Fredonia and founder and director of several social design projects.
More information available at: www.projectmlab.com/Jason-Dilworth and www.designersandforests.us
Complexities of Water: Bagmati River, Nepal and Beyond is a publication that will examine how the holiest river in Nepal became spoiled by decades of pollution and policies that did not address issues related to climate change. It’s present condition is a result of is the result of government mismanagement and oversight, lack of concern for underrepresented communities who live along its banks, and extreme flooding and droughts due to climate change. Recent reports have ranked Nepal as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change due to the high rate of urbanization, unchecked industrial development, severely low water supply, high pollution levels, increasingly frequent extreme floods and droughts, predictions of worsening conditions and lack of appropriate planning to mitigate or adapt to these conditions. Reports also list Nepal as an LDC (least developed country), which indicates its potential limitations to address these issues. This project hopes to bring international attention to this issue and hopefully some support to help provide finances to assist in addressing these issues.
While examples of pollution and the effects of climate change can be found throughout Nepal, there is no better example of how bad the situation has become than what has happened to the Bagmati River. The river is the most sacred Hindu and Buddhist river in Nepal and its banks border the holiest Hindu temples and several UNESCO heritage sites. Yet, it is the most polluted river in Nepal. The Bagmati River is also a prime example of how adversely climate change can affect a community while, at the same time, highlighting the resiliency and commitment of the residents to continue the fight to mend their river. The importance of the river to the people of Nepal and residents of Kathmandu had resulted in inspiring city-wide community events that have tried to restore the sacred waters. While their efforts are admirable and have motivated government action, little has been done to mitigate climate change causes or to adapt communities to their present conditions or to future projections. The proposed book, documentary and related programming connects the science of water quality and climate change to effects of urban migration, social norms, economics, industrial development, and government policies. The book will also investigate how the river’s condition has affected religious rituals and culture. The inclusion of interviews and artwork by professional artists whose work deals with the Bagmati River will provide a unique visual perspective on Kathmandu’s cultural connection to the river. While the issues investigated are specific to Nepal and the Kathmandu Valley, the general causes of the pollution, degradation of the water and its connection to climate change is reflective of many rivers and communities throughout the world.
Through aesthetically-interesting and related imagery, maps, and graphs, I hope to provide a new perspective on the interconnectedness of science, economics, environmentalism and art as it relates to the complexities of climate change and its effects on water. By understanding the interrelatedness of complicated issues in the specific local region, the audience can begin to appreciate the complexities and connectiveness of their own locality to the global community.
Research Leading Up to Nepal Trip in March 2016
Over the past year, I have been researching the literature listed in the bibliography and writing outlines for the chapters listed below. Jason Dilworth and I will be traveling to Kathmandu in March of 2016 to participate in a residency at the Kathmandu Contemporary Arts Center. During the residency, I will continue with my research, document the river, investigate archival images for the publication and meet with climate change specialists. While in Kathmandu, I plan to work with Dr. David Gillette, Associate Professor in Environmental Studies at University of North Carolina, Ashville, who will be on a Fulbright Award investigating the aquatic biodiversity of the rivers in Nepal. We plan 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. The water data will provide information about where the river’s pollution begins and the condition of the water in front of the most sacred sites on the river. I have also been corresponding with Sangeeta Thapa, who is a prominent figure in Kathmandu’s educational system, cultural institutions, and community efforts to clean up the river. She will provide opportunities to meet and interview various religious representatives, community leaders, government leaders, and artists whose work deals with issues related to the river. I have also been discussing this project with Rajendra Suwal, Deputy Director of World Wildlife Fund Nepal, who is interested in working together to integrate the project with their Green Generation public educational initiative. The American Embassy staff in Kathmandu and I are also continuing to discuss opportunities to work together through their Arts Envoy Program which introduces American artists to Nepalese community groups and schools. Additional scientific data and advice will be collected from climate change experts who have created reports specific to Kathmandu and the valley. As part of the residency, I will also be researching the Bagmati River archives at the Patan Museum, National Library, the Central Library and the Department of History of Tribhuwan University, and the Kathmandu Valley Public Library.
Upon returning to the United States after my residency in Kathmandu in March of 2016, I plan to dedicate June, July, August and September to writing drafts of the chapter essays and transcribing the interviews. I will also be working with my colleague, Jason Dilworth, a colleague in the Department of Visual Arts and New Media who is an assistant professor in the graphic design department. He will assist me in organizing the imagery, maps and graphs for the presentations that will be included in the publication. These images will also be presented as part of the installation on my return trip to Kathmandu in November of 2016. The presentations will also incorporate data from the chapter drafts of the project’s publication.
In November 2016, we will return 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 will be presented as text panels, graphs on water quality and imagery showing the progression of pollution and urbanization along the river. Artwork related to artists’ cultural interaction with the river will also be presented. This installation is critical towards strengthening connections between the communities and government and providing data, future projections and possible solutions in an accessible manner. A documentary on the project will also be presented along with public health brochures and poster designed by the students and faculty at Kathmandu University.
Before leaving Nepal, the installation and artists’ artwork about the river will be photographed and video taped.
Upon my return to the States after my November 2016 trip to Kathmandu, we will update the website and begin preparations to have the exhibition tour under the supervision of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, Buffalo, NY. Much like the installation at the Siddhartha Gallery in Kathmandu in November, a similar collection of text panels, artwork reproductions, graphs and maps will be included into the touring exhibition. This installation will also include the video documentary of the project and the published book.
Final product and dissemination
I am fortunate to have been presented with a unique opportunity to share the results of the publication through the generous support of the Burchfield Penney Art Center in 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, I 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.
Complexities of Water: Bagmati River, Kathmandu Valley, Nepal publication and the BAGMATI documentary are finished and are available on this website. Hard copies of the book are also available for purchase.
For the past decade, I have been working on site-specific installations 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 installations are complex, ambitious, and include informational publications 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 I envision the Bagmati River Arts Project to be a global extension of our past work.