By Vidisha Saini:
How does a city get over a catastrophe? How do we find a stable ground? Is there a stable ground after such great loss of life and property; when everything has been put on hold? Chennai has faced a calamity in this past month. The rivers of the city have risen several feet. In Chennai, Coovum is a rain-fed river. It used to be a fishing river in the past. Eventually, over decades it became the drain for the city and had also dried up at different parts. The current rain has poured an immense amount of water into the river, and during this week it was flowing with so much force, thick with dirt, thick with soil, in all it’s beauty, in all it’s might. The river pushed a lot of garbage from inside it on the banks of its course.
It is important for the city to understand why we should care for the river, why we shouldn’t encroach it, and what it means to abuse nature. It’s important that the debris beside the river is cleared up, for people to find a bond with the river that flows through the city. It’s important for us to remember the history of the river, to make documents of our oral narratives. And we are trying to do that through an experimental initiative, the Coovum Art Festival.
The Coovum Art Festival is the largest participatory public art festival in India held on the banks of the river Coovum, from 14th-31st January 2016.The Festival will be bringing the city of Chennai to the banks of the river Coovum to help form a relationship and take ownership of the river. Chennai will host 50 artists from 21 different countries, including Chennai-based artists. These artists, through a month-long period of engagement with the locals in Chennai, will create artwork, perform, make videos, etc. over an 18-day long festival that will be open to the public.
The participating artists have had a long engagement with ecology and culture. They will be offering new ways to document histories, form relationships with the river, understand the river and care for it. They will be caring, healing, documenting, interacting and learning more about the river, along with the city.
As part of the festival, the “Namma Coovum Music Challenge” was launched on December 2nd, to sing to the river, to celebrate its glory, its relation to us, and to heal ourselves. These songs will find space on a Youtube channel soon, and will be played at the festival in January as well.
Apart from all this, the Coovum Art Festival during the rescue operation days released a poster for a DIY Cloth Sanitary Pad and Underwear, only using a baniyan and a pair of scissors. This campaign has gone viral (reached 102,872 people in 42 hours) on social media, and leaflets have been distributed across the city. It informs people that cloth is one of the healthier and more eco-friendly products to be used during menstruation. It is also one of the most essential things that gets ignored during rescue drives.
An event, “River Rain” started during the heavy rains this week. It is a series of walks beside the river that will continue to happen in the coming month. We think one of the key ways to understand the river is by engaging with it, and through this festival, we are out to observe and honour Coovum.
In the first two weeks of January, there will also be a large street art project that will have local and international street artists painting the walls of Chennai.
We want everyone to support this celebration, healing and coming together. Coovum Art Festival opens on January 14th, which is the New Year in the Tamil calendar. Let Chennai not only mark itself on the map of the international contemporary art scene but also celebrate it’s nature and cherish it’s unity.
Let’s bring back our city and it’s spirit!