Project Y

Curator: Ravi Agarwal
Location: New Delhi, India
Year of completion: 2011

Researcher: Gregory Door

Project Y was one half of a public art and outreach program that took place on the banks of Hamburg’s Elbe River and New Delhi’s Yamuna River. Organizers say that Project Y, based in New Delhi, India, is one of the city’s very few public art projects. The ambitions of the project are the more notable for this fact. Project Y was “a public intervention,” says curator Ravi Agarwal, “dealing with site specificity, its history, politics, aesthetics, and possible futures. It was located within the ongoing public discourse, policy, legal, and activist initiatives in Delhi about the river.”

The polluted Yamuna River is largely overlooked by the growing population of the city of New Delhi, which boasts a population now hovering around 17 million. The pressures of this population growth on the river are twofold: as the number of urban-dwellers grow, so does the amount of pollution in the river waters. At the same time, development pressures are encroaching on former wetlands that are being drained and covered with pavement, further robbing the river of its ability to thrive while simultaneously displacing the lower-income fishermen and farmers who formerly dwelled on the riverbanks.

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Project Y was designed to raise awareness of these issues through a multifaceted approach that included workshops and seminars, as well as a temporary art installation along the river. A key aim of the project, according to Agarwal, was directly connected to placemaking—not in the form of built environment, but in the form of raising awareness. “The project was meant to help situate the river front as a ‘public’ space with its many potential publics, which is ‘ecologically beautiful’ even though the river is polluted.”

The temporary works that stood on the banks of the river for two weeks included a range of objects and experiences: sculptures depicting threatened species, performances by traditional musicians, and a floating vessel constructed from litter. Combined with outreach to area schools and the general public, the artworks had an impact. “The project attracted hundreds of people from all walks of life,” says Agarwal. “Many visited the river for the first time, and were surprised that the river existed in the city at all. Several described the site as ‘beautiful’ and a landscape worth preserving.”

The goal of raising awareness has resulted in tangible consequences, especially for people living in the city who had previously overlooked its river. “The project also had an impact on policy makers,” says Agarwal. The Delhi Development Authority, which has jurisdiction over the site of the art installation, jettisoned large-scale construction in the area in favor of more natural restoration/preservation of the shoreline.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency