Imaging and Imagining Terrain

MUMBAI, July 15, 2009 - In June 2009, The National Gallery of Modern Art Mumbai presented SOAK, a public exhibition and book aimed at recovering and inventing ways of inhabiting Mumbai as a monsoon and estuarine landscape.

SOAK imagines the sea and the monsoon not as enemies and agents of flood, but as inevitable partners in the shaping of the ground of settlement. It is an alternative representation of Mumbai's terrain, which situates Mumbai in a fluid threshold between land and sea, a shifting saline and fresh water gradient of creeks, and a monsoon surface of holdings. Twelve fresh proposals provoke us to rethink the larger terrain of the Mithi that reaches down from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park to historic forts along what used to be the Mahim creek.

In a panel discussion co-organized by The National Gallery of Modern Art and Asia Society India Centre, Anuradha Mathur and Dilip da Cunha, faculty from the University of Pennsylvania School of Design, and authors and artists behind SOAK, Dilip D'Souza, journalist and writer, and Abhay Sardesai, editor of Art India, came together to discuss SOAK's impact as both an art exhibit and a piece of urban planning. The panel discussion focused on two aspects of the exhibition: first, the art, design, and representational strategies behind SOAK; and second, its larger context of urban design in flood scenarios.

The panel discussion opened with a clip from the documentary film Freedom, depicting the disastrous flooding in Bihar, which affected millions of lives. The film, like SOAK, addresses the need for strategies to deal with flooding which transcend the building of artifical barriers designed to restrict water movement. The panel agreed that in Mumbai, there is much to be desired from the government's response to the threat of flooding. The panel also discussed the need for flood design strategies which rethink the rhetoric surrounding maps and the meaning of lines that maps draw between land and sea. How must we regard lines that are man-made and which define our understanding of floods? The creators of SOAK want to open up the discussion of what maps don't show. As Dilip da Cunha said, "When you look at land from above, land speaks, water doesn't."


Reported by Madeline Gressel, Asia Society India Centre