2/13/16 – The project is picking up speed as we continuing to work closely with Dr. David Gillette and Dr. Bibhuti ranjan Jha, aquatic biologists from the University of North Carolina and Kathmandu University. They will help us find and document the threatened snow trout and will assist in water testing. Dr. Gillette has been instrumental in also lining up climate change specialist for the project. We are also planning workshops and art assignments with students and community members with the assistance of Rajendra Suwal, Director of the World Wildlife Fund Nepal, and Shikha Gurung, Director of Generation Green Program.
Bagmati River Art Project, Kathmandu, Nepal:
An International Touring Exhibition, Documentary Film and Publication
(Information on supporting this project through tax-deductible donations)
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 : org- http://www.projectmlab.com/Jason-Dilworth and http://hiddenfrontiers.designersandforests.us/?page_id=2
About a year ago, I had a solo museum installation that outlined the history of the Scajaquada River that was buried under the city of Buffalo, NY. The complex installation took about two 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 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. After initial discussions with professionals, museum staff and community members in Kathmandu, it was clear that there was a great deal of interest in my project. I was granted a residency at the Kathmandu Contemporary Arts Center a few months later, and my research began in earnest. Support for the Bagmati River Arts Project has grown steadily since that point. My original proposed timeline was delayed due to the earthquake last April, but the project is now back on track.
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. 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.
Chapters for the Complexities of Water: Bagmati River, Nepal and Beyond include:
-Introduction – The Introduction will discuss how the publication was conceived, its connections to my prior projects in the United States, the structure and methodology of the research and the importance of building awareness for global water issues.
-History of the Bagmati River and Its Cultural and Religious Importance – This chapter investigates the rich history of the river as the birthplace of Nepalese civilization and its importance in Buddhist and Hindu religion and rituals.
– Climate Change, Urban Migration and Industrial Pollution on the Bagmati River – This chapter investigates the far-reaching effects of climate change, continuous migration of the Nepalese population to the Kathmandu Valley and the uncontrolled industrial development that has produced unhealthy conditions, lack of clean water and food, disturbances to the water basin and the demise of the river.
-Condition of the River: Before and After the April 2015 Earthquake – This chapter investigates how the earthquake impacted the efforts to remedy the water and pollution issues and how the destruction of some of the important cultural and religious institutions have affected the residents.
-Community and Government Efforts to Clean the River- This chapter discusses the ambitious plans to tunnel water from another river into the city, the projected impact on a nature reserve and projected issues from recruiting a large foreign worker force to build the tunnel. Grass roots efforts to remove sewage from water and to change daily sanitary practices will also be discussed.
-Projected Climate Change Effects on the Bagmati River and Residents – This chapter discusses the projected climate change effects on flooding, food supply, and clean water supply. I will also include new short-term adaptive options available to improve the human condition of underserved residents while discussing long-term mitigating options to slow climate change therefore improving the future for the city and region.
-Conclusion- This chapter provides an overview of the results presented in the previous chapters while outlining connections to conditions found in many rivers and communities throughout the United States and the world.
In November 2016, I 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, along with climate change projection maps, graphs on water quality and urban migration, 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.
Before leaving Nepal, the installation and artists’ artwork about the river will be photographed. Additional video interviews will be shot with community members, artists, government representatives and climate change specialists to provide additional insight on how the condition of the river and the recent earthquakes have affected the lives of the residents and the religious rituals on the river.
Upon my return to the States after my November 2016 trip to Kathmandu, I will spend December, January , February, March, and April finishing the chapter essays; incorporating photographs of the installation, excerpts from interviews and additional new research gathered from the November trip; preparing artwork and graphics for the publication, editing the project’s video documentary; and updating the website. 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 another installation that will tour within and outside the United States. This touring exhibition will also include the video documentary of the project and the published book. Part of the time on Stage III of the fellowship will include preparing the items necessary for this installation.
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.
Support to publish Complexities of Water: Bagmati River, Nepal and Beyond and create the documentary has already been secured so that the results of the research will be available at no cost to a global audience. The free digital version will be available on the project’s website. This website will also include the edited video interviews and additional imagery related to the project as well as a blog to allow correspondence between communities. The website will go live before the trip to Kathmandu in March of 2016. I am fluent in WordPress and will maintain the website and update it with notices regarding upcoming lectures and presentations related to the project. Through the publication, lectures, installations and website I hope to provide varied layers of accessibility so that the general public and scholars can more fully engage in the results found in the publication.
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 are included with large wall 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. I envision the Bagmati River Arts Project to be a global extension of my past work.