Mock trial explores artists’ role in preserving environment | 09 APRIL 2017

Mock trial explores artists' role in preserving environment

New Delhi, Apr 9 Ravi Agarwal stands in the witness box, vehemently arguing against the linking of rivers.

He charts out the ill effects point by point, presenting a video as an evidence, as Norma Alvares, a Bombay High Court advocate representing Agarwal, requests that the commission of enquiry should look into the river linking project in question.

Agarwal, an artist and environmental activist, was part of a mock trial that sought to find the role of artists in protecting the environment and explore the capacities of the artistic community to contribute in environmental projects.

Titled “Landscapes as Evidence: Artist as Witness”, the hearing incorporated three artists as witnesses, who established their cases with their artworks as evidences.

Counsel Anand Grover, who represented the State, on the other hand, noted development as the main focus of any river linking project, adding that the negatives of such measures were minimal, and could easily be resolved by the law, dismissing any role of artists.

But, Alvares questioned, “What would happen if we – lawyers, accountants, scientists – are asked to live in a jungle? Would we even last a day?”

Tapping on an artist’s ability to dig beneath the surface of the obvious, she built her case by upholding the community’s participation in protecting the environment.

She argued that while professionals like lawyers or scientists might only be able to see the infrastructural benefits of a river linking project, it is perhaps only an artist who will be able to offer a perspective about the cons of such a development.

“Artists see not just the obvious, they also see the trauma human beings and the ecology would be subjected to as they employ different media like paintings, poetry, songs, music to represent what people feel.

“And therefore, we feel it is important for the commission to recognise that while art doesn’t provide a direct answer to the problem, it makes you pause and think about alternative solutions,” she said.

The artists faced a tough cross-examination by Grover during the three-hour long trial, with the latter trying to establish that facts are more important than “imaginary evidences”.

Justice Yatindra Singh, former Chief Justice of the Chhattisgarh High Court, observed that although an ecologist’s viewpoints are based majorly on facts, any evidence that voices the concerns of common people must be considered.

“Going deep into the artists’ evidences produced in the case, a different picture emerges. There is no doubt that there is some subjectivity, but if the artists who work with people on ground present something as evidence, it must be considered,” Singh said.

Performed at the Constitution Club of India, the trial organised by Khoj International Artists’ Association and theater director Zuleikha Chaudhari, also witnessed photographs and installations by artist Sheba Chhachhi and Mumbai-based sculptor Navjot Altaf.