Students' Biennale 2021: Dialogues on Coal Labors: Atanu Bakshi

Curated by Suresh K Nair

Coal labour by Atanu BakshiKochi-Muziris Biennale

Dialogues on Coal Labour in Jharia

From Greenpeace India’s 2021 report, Jharia is the most polluted town in India. The state of affairs had prompted authorities to relocate the population of more than 80000 to a safer neighbourhood. 

Bakshi captures the circumstances in Jharia through woodcut and embossing.

Open Mining by Atanu BakshiKochi-Muziris Biennale

The open coal fields offer a treacherous yet patterned view of earth that has been dug. The patterns trace human comprehension of nature, at times effective and at times not.

As the reserves are dug out, the geography alters. Landscape becomes a variable, accounted merely by time. 

The underground machines by Atanu BakshiKochi-Muziris Biennale

The ground of Jharia is most often a shield to the terror below it. Raging fires and smoke constantly knock from beneath, and the land at times can’t hold onto its promise.

Even when seemingly stable, what is happening beneath the surface weakens the basic definition of ground. The elaborate machinery and coal trails that extend in all directions gives the underground a spectacularly ominous identity here. 

The general view of an open COAL MINING is by Atanu BakshiKochi-Muziris Biennale

Atanu Bakshi represents a bird’s eye view of open-cast coal mining. The machines cut open the Earth here, square by square. The open-cast fields are in fact inferior in size as well as numbers, compared to the underground ones. 

But these are the ones visible to the eyes of a layman – a glimpse of the unfathomable horror.

Labourers and coal workers working in coal mining by Atanu BakshiKochi-Muziris Biennale

The residents of Jharia, who include a significant number of mining labourers, are subjected to pollution of the highest degree. Moreover, they are seasoned to anticipate land subsidence due to abandoned coal fields and continual fires underground.

Hope was provided in the form of a relocation programme, but it was never materialised. The deteriorating state of life is captured on embossing print by Bakshi, who essays the story in white, which he describes as the non-existence of colour in the life of the residents there.

Jharia landscape on fire by Atanu BakshiKochi-Muziris Biennale

Jharia, a mining town in Jharkand, has been synonymous to an inferno for over a century. The large-scale coal mining – both open-cast and underground, has left the town and its people in a state of malignancy, with uncontrolled pollution and unsafe living conditions.

There are undying fires beneath the grounds of Jharia, waiting to purge through fissures – new and old. 

Bakshi has cut the horrors on wood. Jharia is burning above and beneath the surface here. It’s a century-old tale, but the heat never recedes.

Residents breathe uneasy by Atanu BakshiKochi-Muziris Biennale

Mining has prospered sectors, industries and people, but its dark side remains hidden. It lies beyond the fumes and smoke, and has nothing but poisonous traits, and is iterative. 

This dark side is etched on wood, the way life is etched enduringly for Jharia people.

Underground coal mining by Atanu BakshiKochi-Muziris Biennale

On quite unexpected moments, the town’s surface may give in to land subsidence – a phenomenon of sudden sinking of land. Meaning, the undying fire is not a myth; it can and has surfaced anytime, anywhere in the town of Jharia.

The dark side of the mining by Atanu BakshiKochi-Muziris Biennale

1916 marked the very first land subsidence in the locality. So the calamity has been terrorising these lives for over a century now, and has accounted for numerous deaths and property damage for the residents. Yet, respite is unsure. 

The Students’ Biennale seeks to complement and strengthen the fine arts education system in India and is the largest educational initiative of the Kochi Biennale Foundation. The fourth edition was led by a team of five artists and art educators – Adip Dutta, Archana Hande, Manoj Vyloor, Suresh K Nair and Vasudha Thozhur, and featured 314 student artists from over 62 education institutions across India to produce approximately 45 projects.

Credits: Story

Compiled and Edited by Mala Yamey

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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