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For the first exhibition in Dubai, renowned artist Navjot Altaf examines the ecological crisis in India’s most vulnerable communities

DUBAI: For her first exhibition in Dubai and the Arabian Peninsula, revered Indian artist Navjot Altaf will present a series of abstract works that address the pressing issues of climate change, ecology and feminism and their presence in our increasingly digital age.

Since the 1970s, Altaf’s practice has encompassed diverse media, including painting, photography, sculpture, installation, video, site-specific works, and activism. Her upcoming exhibition entitled “Pattern” opens September 14th at the Ishara Art Foundation on Alserkal Avenue and, like her title, constitutes Altaf’s rich range of expression as she poses relevant issues critical to the survival of our environment and humanity are relevant.

Born in 1949, Altaf, who currently works between Mumbai and Bastar, a district in central India, has exhibited her work across India and South Asia, as well as in prominent international institutions including Tate Modern in London and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in London Seoul and PAV Arte Vivente in Turin.

Navjot Altaf, Seriousness of the Problems (2014-2015). (Image courtesy: Chemould Prescott Road and the artist. Photo credit: Anil Rane)

“My work is about dealing with the contradictory and paradoxical times we live in,” says artist Arab News. “I look at someone’s dreams, worries and questions and how we can find hope.

“I am in solidarity with everyone who wants to imagine the world differently and organize it differently.”

Through her work, Altaf brings to the forefront issues related to anthropogenic environmental change, or climate change, which, as she says, “reflects the intersection of local, regional and national politics with the urgency of development and the power of national and global capital as an obsession with growth is interwoven for one society, not necessarily for all industries.”

Altaf has long thought about how she can use her work to help destitute and struggling communities in India. For example, in 1997 she moved to Bastar, a district in central India, where she co-founded DIAA (Dialogue Interactive Artists Association), an organization run by other creatives along with artists Rajkumar Korram, Shantibai and Gessuram Viswakarma. Together they have worked with Indigenous communities to find ways to create sustainable livelihoods, advocate for justice and raise awareness of the social and environmental crises in the region through the narratives of their art.

Navjot Altaf, Pattern (2015-2016). (Image courtesy: Chemould Prescott Road and the artist. Photo credit: Anil Rane)

“Pattern” includes six works created by Altaf since 2014 and 2015, the year of the UN Climate Change Conference and the Paris Climate Agreement. The works on display show how Altaf uses her art in conjunction with other artists, activists and organizations to trace the connections between human exploitation and the effects of climate change.

How Perfection Can Be (2016-2017), for example, is a collection of 24 abstract watercolors that pay tribute to what the artist calls “imaginative and working minds and hands” to critique the celebration of urbanization and authoritarianism. Her intricate watercolors are based on details found in glass buildings and other monoliths in New York, but overlaid with line graphs that convey information about the effects of climate change.

Another work on display is Soul Breath Wind (2015), a multi-channel video created through Altaf’s research and outreach to local communities in north-central Chhattisgarh, India. “They fight for justice against forces that increase the vulnerability of ecosystems that have affected people’s lives, their culture and their contribution to the preservation of the ecosystem for centuries because they do not see themselves outside of nature,” explains Altaf. “I see them as a community of (resistance). I am interested in learning from their living knowledge systems as well as from scientific analyses.”

Altaf’s practice spans diverse media, including painting, photography, sculpture, installation, video, site-specific works, and activism. (Image courtesy of Aparna Jayakumar)

Also on display are 24 small sculptures entitled Patterns Which Connect (2018), previously exhibited at the PAV in Turin in 2019. The collection of 24 fossil-like sculptures sheds light on the diverse natural ecosystem threatened by urbanization and human intervention.

“It shows how aggressive human encroachment on nature has destroyed the biodiversity that encompasses other organisms on Earth, including insects,” she said. “Together we form the web of life, but several insects are becoming extinct species. These fossil shapes I made reflect what would happen if insects were to disappear from the planet.”

Curated by Sabih Ahmed, Associate Director and Curator of the Ishara Art Foundation, the exhibition showcases Altaf’s rich variety of mediums and her exploration of the socio-economic hardship caused by ecological crises.

Navjot Altaf, Pattern (2015-2016). (Image courtesy: Chemould Prescott Road and the artist. Photo credit: Anil Rane)

“Climate-related issues are certainly troubling countries around the world, including the Middle East, one of the most water-stressed regions, and could threaten millions of lives and livelihoods in the years to come,” Altaf added.

In “Seriousness of Issues” she presents a graph of statistical information tracking seven indices of environmental disasters she has collected since 2011. The work is used in relation to her How Perfect Perfection Can Be series, which depicts the lack of fresh water and air, pollution, car emissions and climate change worldwide. “These changes in our ecology have affected every living thing on (the) planet, no matter where we live.”

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