The Imbalanced Dynamics of Land, Water and Communities A Visual Perspective on the Smart City Template/Schema in India

Author: Vrushali Dhage


Smart Cities was a new keyword added in the Urban Development context, indicating infrastructural upgradation of cities, befitting the then newly economically liberalised and globalised India in the mid-1980s. With the economic transition, catalysed by the global technocapitalist revolution, India became a major outsourcing hub. The nodal cities within this global network had to be updated with urgency to fit the global infrastructural idiom. Majority of the changes had to be retrofitted, which altered not just their inherent character and the visual cityscapes, but largely interfered with their waterbodies; thereby, raising questions over the - vision and design of such measures of development, and immediate/palpable degradation of resources.

The paper shall focus on two historic cities and current mega(/metro)polises - Delhi and Mumbai, as physical cityscapes in conjunction to their respective waterbodies of prominence; as primary/precious resource, aesthetics references, religious connotations and historic relevance, to their current condition within the Smart City schema. It shall undertake a dialogical approach of the lived experience of various communities dependent on these water sources, by reading works of contemporary Indian artists. As new elements of urban development were retrofitted over/within these spaces, thereby altering them drastically, many artists raised questions - about the new human living conditions, in the given (new) situations/crisis. Some positioning themselves as witnesses documenting these spaces through the current transitions, further analysing the claims of futuristic prosperity versus the ethical falsity. Whereas some artists, through performances and its documentation strike a dialogue as humans (as mediators/ discussants) belonging to the causal, resultant parties alike - with the physical/natural scapes.

The study intends to present a methodological approach, of granting the visual process of reading and the subsequent creative expression a place of prominence in critically evaluating the dynamics of the land, water and communities, in the context of Smart City upgradations in Delhi and Mumbai. With some works addressing the very materiality of the land and its water (or the water and its land), to those reading the lived reality of the dependent/engaged communities. Given which, the visual works move from being a mere image or reference of the same, to a document loaded with questions on the capability and potential of inclusiveness of such projects and their designs.

Keywords: Contemporary Indian Art, Performance Art, Art and Ecology, Smart Cities, Globalisation, Economic Liberalisation, Urban Planning and Development, Urban Design, Natural Resource Management