Elisabetta Marabotto of Saffronart on Samar Jodha’s installation ‘Bhopal: A Silent Picture’
London: Samar Jodha’s installation, ‘Bhopal: A Silent Picture’, was on display at the Amnesty International office in the British capital until the end of July.
Jodha’s work recalls one of the world’s largest industrial disasters, and calls on viewers not to forget it. It was the night of 2 December, 1984, when 42 tons of fatal methyl isocyanate gas escaped from the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. The number of people affected by this event at the time and now, is literally unbelievable. 2,259 people lost their lives immediately after the leak, while 558,125 people were exposed to the poison, and 25,000 more people are thought to have died as a result of its longer-term consequences. The widespread radiation and soil and water pollution caused by the leak continue to affect people living in the area, and several children were born with severe physical disabilities following the disaster.
The decision to display Jodha’s installation during the Olympic Games is not a coincidence. In fact Dow Chemical, one of the sponsors of the Games, used to own the Union Carbide Corporation, whose Indian subsidiary was the responsible for the disaster. However, Dow Chemical still declines to accept responsibility for the leak and its consequences.
Amnesty International, which teamed up with Jodha to present this installation in London, is demanding Lord Coe, head of the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, to apologize to the victims of Bhopal and to take back his committee’s defense of Dow Chemical.
The installation comprises a seven ton black shipping container, 40 feet long and 10 feet high, which displays a row of sepia-toned 3D pictures from the chemical plant. The outside of the container is covered with inscriptions of the chemical compound for methyl isocyanate, CH3NCO, and 200C which is the temperature of the gas at the moment of its emission.
Facing the row of pictures, are 18 mannequins pressing their noses and foreheads on a piece of black fabric. The mannequins bear names and reference numbers of the people who lost their lives in the factory on the contours of their forms. According to the artist, the “…names make the loss real. Names are very important, people relate to names.”
The installation soundscape enhances the atmosphere of the work. It reproduces the sounds of that night, “…silence pierced by the sound of crickets and the humming chemical plant alternating with the hiss of the deadly gas leaking. What follows is the breathlessness of the very first victim of the disaster, followed by silence – of death, indifference and political-corporate callousness.”
Jodha managed to enter the plant few times to fully understand the situation and document it for his work. The sight of the abandoned factory, as seen in the images he was able to take there, was extremely shocking.
Jodha’s work, starting from this specific event, aims to make people reflect on broader issues concerning the unfair world we live in. He says “In my view Bhopal is a conflict issue. It’s something I have been focusing on for over 15 years, it’s about this so-called modernity, consumption models, urbanization and how the traditional way of life is marginalized.”
The installation was exhibited throughout India in 2011, where it was received well by critics and the public. In Mumbai 95,000 people entered the installation in a week, making it the most visited public art project in India. Watch a video of ‘Bhopal: A Silent Picture’ in Mumbai.
Following its display in London, the installation will be exhibited in various European cities over the next two years. Jodha wants to exhibit the work where people wouldn’t know about this issue and will reflect about what happened. He wants to bring awareness and reflection. The artist’s ultimate goal, however, is to install the work in Bhopal as a memorial to the victims.