- As environmental challenges gain wider debate, a growing number of Indian artists are turning to metal scraps to create art wonder. Artists believe that their works of art influence the culture of reuse and recycle to save the environment — without sermonising.
- A World Bank report has estimated 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide– equivalent (CO2-equivalent) greenhouse gas emissions from solid waste management in 2016. Without improvements in the sector, solid waste related emissions are anticipated to increase to 2.6 billion tonnes of CO2- equivalent by 2050.
- In New Delhi, municipal authorities are converting metal junk yards into art parks showcasing eco-arts made from scrap.
It was a cold and lazy Sunday afternoon. But inside sculptor Gopal Namjoshi’s studio in Medawas, a small village in Gurugram, work was going on in full swing. Standing atop a 10 feet high make-shift podium, Namjoshi was assiduously welding a mustache on to a 16-feet tall sculpture of a ‘Haryanvi Tau’ — completely made of 300 kgs of waste metal including pieces of automotive rims, rotting metal sheets, scrap grills, hooks, swings, mesh and old frames.
The Tau, a quintessential Haryana male, has all trademark features — dhoti-kurta, turban, a handlebar mustache, hasli (traditional silver anklet), jutis and a stick.
For Namjoshi, his art is a message about the environment. “Scrap metals and junkyards are known sources of environmental hazards. I am using such waste to create artworks to show people the destruction they are causing. It’s a win-win for artists, art connoisseurs and most importantly nature. If you wish to give a bigger message, you have to find a character that people can instantly connect with. Essentially, I am making people see art through ecological glasses,” he added while clearing metal remains strewn all over the studio to make some space to sit.
Stacked against the walls, lying on the floor and even hanging from the ceiling, the placed is littered with metal offcuts collected from scrap dealers.
Namjoshi is one among the growing number of Indian artists who are turning metal junk into stunning works of art. Objective – creating awareness about ecology and the need for reuse and recycle in every sphere of life.
“Our planet is dying and we all have to do something for conservation. Artists have the power to highlight issues without sermonising, and influence minds to be eco-conscious through artworks. By using metal scrap and junks to build precious environmental arts we are doing just that,” asserted Mumbai-based artist Nishant Sudhakaran, owner of Leo Metal Arts that specialises in making customised sculptures from metal castoffs.
Some of Sudhakaran’s metal artworks include a 7-feet-tall man wrapped in tree branches to highlight that man and nature are inseparable, a full-grown tree with moving metal leaves and Hollywood movie character Bumblee Bee made with spare auto-parts.
While an artist’s space is usually envisioned as a serene storehouse of colour, canvas and paintbrushes, these eco-sculptors work in noisy workshops with welding machines, saws and hammers. And at times they can be spotted at motor garages, junkyards, and scrap stores to source their rusty raw materials.
Gujarat based artist Anuj Poddar said while he can’t take people to a landfill site to show the extent of pollution caused by solid waste, he uses his skill to turn solid waste into artworks to achieve the same result.
Alok Singh, a director with the South Delhi Municipal Corporation, explains that scrap metals that end up in landfills pose a huge pollution risk.
“Toxic substances like lead, copper and zinc creep into the soil from solid metal waste, and contaminate the groundwater, which is hazardous for both health of humans and that of nature,” said Singh. He was in charge of creating the Waste to Wonder Park that has the seven wonders of the world re-created using over 150 tonnes of scrap metals from Delhi’s junkyards.
Singh said that in the 17th century, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal, in the memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz. Around 366 years later, another Taj was built with equal love. This time it is not made of pristine Persian marbles but from metal scraps — 1600 cycle rings, electric poles, old pans, park benches, swings, angles, truck springs and sheets.
Similarly, the Statue of Liberty’s metal clone is made of old pipes, metal railings and angles. The 35-feet statue holds a tablet in one hand-carved from an iron bench and the torch is crafted from motorbike parts. And the mane is made using cycle chains.
“We were told that this place was a landfill and now we are here as visitors to see the beauty of eco-art. It forces you to think about the environment and what all we can do for it,” said Tuli Bhojwani, a visitor.
To provoke, precisely this thought, the sculptures haven’t been painted, says Niten Mehta, owner of art gallery YaWeDo Art and the person responsible for executing the project. “We want people to know that these artworks are made from scrap. So, neither the metal pieces used for making them nor rust has been hidden with paint.” They have been given an eco-friendly Nano coating to stop further corrosion.
According to the Ministry of Environment, India produces approximately 97,171 tons of solid waste every day of which only about 20 percent is being treated. While there are improvements and innovations in solid waste management globally, it is a complex issue and one on which urgent action is needed, the World Bank said in a report titled What a Waste 2.0.
As per the World Bank report an estimated 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2-equivalent) greenhouse gas emissions were generated from solid waste management in 2016. This is about 5 percent of global emissions. Without improvements in the sector, solid waste-related emissions are anticipated to increase to 2.6 billion tonnes of CO2- equivalent by 2050.
So, what is driving an increasing number of artists to create ecologically conscious art, thus awareness of late?
Some argue that the art fraternity is now making a conscious effort to respond to environmental challenges. “Unique artworks made of unconventional materials possess a wow factor. It attracts people to not only enjoy the art-work, but also internalise the cause behind it,” said Israeli artist Achia Anzi, who works as an assistant professor of Liberal Arts at O.P. Jindal Global University in Haryana. Anzi’s recent works include a dead metal bird lying on the ground and a herd of sheep made with metal wires showcasing the impact of environmental hazards on animals.
Gujarat artist Poddar has another view: “Art is the mirror of society. Since environmental issues are glaring at us like never before, it is obvious that artists are seeking inspiration and utilising the abundantly available ‘resource’ (scrap) to create eco arts.”
Like artists, urban municipal authorities are making the most of eco-art too. For instance, address the pressing issue of solid waste management, Vadodara Municipal Corporation commissioned artists to create sculptures from waste metal two years ago . In Delhi, the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) commissioned 30 sculptures made using 15 tonnes of metal scraps. The success of the project in better utilising solid waste in the city, prompted SDMC to create the ‘Waste to Wonder’ park clearing a solid waste landfill.
“The marriage of art and waste has been a winning combination. On one hand if it has helped us deal with the grave ecological issue of solid waste management, on the other hand it is creating environmental awareness. In addition, the park ups the aesthetic appeal of the city, serves as a green lung for the national capital and is proving a revenue churner what more can one ask for?” said Singh of SDMC.
Art curator Mehta said that the collaboration between city authorities and artists in promoting environment awareness via artwork has a larger impact and reach. While an individual artist has limited reach and resource to promote a cause, collaboration is a win-win for both art and the environment.
“The waste to wonder park was revelation and a huge success for SDMC, waste management, and art community. We are now working on another theme park using 350 tonnes of metal scraps collected from landfills and junk yards in Delhi. The ‘Bharat Darshan’ waste park will house over a dozen monuments of India being recreated from metal scraps,” said Mehta as Singh kept nodding in unison. “Let art be the medium to save environment”.
Related: Using art to promote conservation.
Banner image: Statue of Liberty in Delhi, one of the seven wonders at the Waste to Wonder park, made out of metal scraps. Photo by Vikrant/Wikimedia Commons.