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'sā Ladakh' explores culture, climate and community in the Himalayan terrain

Land art exhibition sā Ladakh engages with the mountain terrain through a trail of artworks by local, Indian and International artists.

by Sakhi SobtiPublished on : Aug 21, 2023

Nestled in the Himalayas, sā Ladakh is a land art exhibition taking place in Disko Valley near Leh in Ladakh, India. translates to 'soil' in the native languages spoken in the mountain region, and through its usage here, serves the idea of a grounded, slow, community predicated, and sustainable way of life. The inaugural edition of the art exhibition has been founded by mountaineer Tenzing ‘Jammy' Jamyang, contemporary artist Raki Nikahetiya, and designer Sagardeep Singh. The exhibition has been co-curated by Dr. Monisha Ahmed, co-founder of LAMO (Ladakhi Media and Arts Organisation).

For A Fifty Million Years, 2023, Mixed Media, Raki Nikahetiya| “sā” Ladakh | STIRworld
For A Fifty Million Years, 2023, Mixed Media, Raki Nikahetiya Image: © Raki Nikahetiya, Courtesy of sā Ladakh

Set on a mountain trail, the exhibition kindles engagement with the natural landscape and facilitates hope for climate change, through art installations that prompt the audience to think through community, culture and the natural environment. Art festival co-curator and co-founder, Nikahetiya shared a glimpse of their vision in the official release, stating: "Our primary focus will be on a 20-acre expanse of land, where we will delve into our interpretation of 'climate optimism.' Through the remarkable medium of land art, our aim is to foster an inclusive dialogue on climate-related issues, engaging and inspiring communities amidst the breathtaking yet delicate Himalayan landscape." Even their art installation For A Fifty Million Years nudges the geological interpretation of the mountainscape, bringing together the assimilation of the natural environment. It is, above all, a reminder of the longevity and evolution of the mountain soil. Through layers of natural environs atop each other, and shaped by natural pressures and movements over a mega annum, the installation emulates essential geological processes. It is a time capsule archiving the origin of our terrain.

Untitled , 2023, Paper-mâché with old note books and card board, clay, Skarma Sonam Tashi | “sā” Ladakh | STIRworld
Untitled, 2023, Paper-mâché with old notebooks and cardboard, clay, Skarma Sonam Tashi Image: Courtesy of sā Ladakh

Ideas of the anthropological significance of the terrain are further explored by Indian artist Skarma Sonam Tashi's art installation Untitled, which confronts the fragility of human existence and the configurations of the earth. Tashi's work draws attention to environmental and climate challenges in the high-altitude regions and questions the significance that mountainous regions hold for the planet in the 21st century. Using the backdrop of a large rock face, onto which he creates glaciers and drawings of human settlements, the drawn glaciers gradually ebb as it approaches the drawn homes. Tashi's experimentation with everyday recycling material and clay treats the transformational aspect of the landscape as a metaphor for fragility and malleability.

Echoes of the coral brain, 2023,Stones, Lime and Soil, Sagardeep Singh | sā Ladakh | STIRworld
Echoes of the coral brain, 2023,Stones, Lime and Soil, Sagardeep Singh Image: Courtesy of sā Ladakh

Similar notions are put across through Singh’s installation Echoes of the coral brain, represented by white stones to refer to the corals of the ocean, which may have been there eons before humans were. The continuous white line is a delicate reminder of our planet’s fragility.

Untitled , 2023, Paper-mâché with old note books and card board, clay, Skarma Sonam Tashi | “sā” Ladakh | STIRworld
What if we prayed to the mountains?, 2023, Clay, metal wire, wood, jute rope, stones and rocks, Arunima Dazess Wangchuk Image: Courtesy of sā Ladakh

Local artist Anayat Ali and artist Arunima Dazess Wangchuk treat the mountain land as a liminal space. Ali's Sacred Place depicts the connotations of the urban urgency for development and land as an imperative for the same. The uneven composure of naturally found stones, rocks, and soil are delicately balanced, and the lack of industrial materials is a reminder of how natural elements, particularly constructions of stones or bedrock, have been facilitating protection for human civilisations for centuries. Wangchuk's artwork What if we prayed to the mountains? is made of clay, metal wire, wood, jute rope, stones, and rocks, and through these, evokes a devotion to nature. The work is concerned with climate crises and carbon footprint, reinforced by systems such as tourism and industrialisation, which sustain native livelihoods but simultaneously deplete the quality of natural resources. It further taints the relationship between local people and their environment of origin, malnourishing their sense of belonging. Wangchuk creates an altar as she proposes the rhetoric: "What if we prayed to the mountains, would the world then be a better place?"

Vanishing Footprints, 2023,basgo clay, plaster of Paris, and wood ash, Dorjay Churpon | “sā” Ladakh | STIRworld
Vanishing Footprints, 2023, basso clay, plaster of Paris, and wood ash, Dorjay Churpon Image: Courtesy of sā Ladakh

Artist Tundup Dorjay Churpon's installation Vanishing Footprints also deciphers the native identity and its evolution tainted by the format of the developing world. Approaching topics of urban migration, the installation traces a forgotten interdependence on cattle, which was the source of many dietary staples. It is reminiscent of a cattle-dependent lifestyle; the hooves which are spread across are made of basso clay, plaster of Paris, and wood ash.

River of Sweat, 2023,Recycled Sarees,Anshu Singh | “sā” Ladakh | STIRworld
River of Sweat, 2023, Recycled Sarees, Anshu Singh Image: Courtesy of sā Ladakh

Urban ways of life are also explored in Vibha Galhotra's textile installation You Don't Own Me!, and the work by Anshu Singh, a contemporary artist practicing within the textile medium, who exhibited River of Sweat. These works of art review the harsh realities of capitalism and the exploitation of natural resources. Singh's installation is made from repurposed sarees, demanding attention to the environmental impact of the fashion industry, which is the second most polluting industry in the world. Galhotra, too, uses discarded clothes, and her art installation reminds us that ownership and sovereignty do not apply to nature, thus encouraging a transcendence of our contemporary systems and structures, such that we come to revolve on the axis of collective responsibility.

You Don't Own Me!, 2023, Discarded fabric, Vibha Galhotra | “sā” Ladakh | STIRworld
You Don't Own Me!, 2023, Discarded fabric, Vibha Galhotra Image: Courtesy of sā Ladakh

Other artists exhibiting at sa Ladakh include Birender Yadav, Jigmet Angmo, Gurmet Kungyam, Sagardeep Singh, and Tundup Gyatso. With light projections and video art, German artist Philipp Frank explores the dynamics between spirituality and the natural world.

  • Kicker of Plastics , 2023, Plastic bottles ,earth and wood, Tundup Gyatso | sā Ladakh | STIRworld
    Kicker of Plastics, 2023, Plastic bottles ,earth and wood, Tundup Gyatso Image: Courtesy of sā Ladakh
  • Bayul, 2023, Mirror Installation, Gurmet Kungyam | sā Ladakh | STIRworld
    Bayul, 2023, Mirror Installation, Gurmet Kungyam Image: Courtesy of sā Ladakh

Engaging with configurations of earth allows one to reignite hope against the pending climate crisis. Art has always been a lens that magnifies our relationship to nature. Contemporary art further deepens its interpretation of this dependence and occasionally facilitates alternative solutions to sustain this dependence. For example, this year Helsinki Biennal’s New Directions May Emerge inspired ideas of ecological revival. Similarly, artworks installed at the music festival Coachella Desert X were prompted to observe social and ecological concerns of our contemporary world. The art exhibition sā Ladakh transcends the idea of art as a medium for generating climate awareness, instead choosing to present outright climate optimism, with artists taking a constructive approach to remind us of the significance of grassroots and the restructuring of modern systems from the ground. This, in a sense, mimics the mountains themselves, and the natural landscape of the region compliments the emotional template of humility and resilience—calling for a compassionate revolution and fostering a dialogue to reimagine our symbiotic relationship with nature.

While the art installations are visible during the day, the video and light installations can be viewed during the night. sa ladakh is on view until August 23, and the closing ceremony will be accompanied by music, workshops, and live art. The event has been supported by Ladakh Media and Arts Organisation, the Austrian Cultural Forum, and the Embassies of Germany and Switzerland to India among others.

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