Produced in collaboration with the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, and curated by Mario D’Souza, artist Pranay Dutta’s Neti (2022) explores the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest located in the delta formed in the Brahmaputra, Meghna, and Padma rivers in the Bay of Bengal, between India and Bangladesh. Giving an eerie and ominous feeling to this porous, watery landscape, the black and white computer-generated animation explores this liminal region, with its swinging boats and waterlogged barriers, under the spectral marsh ‘Aleya lights’, or ghost lights—the strange and as yet unexplained light-phenomena occurring in West Bengal marshes.
Drawing from Indigenous early civilizations and histories of the Bengal Delta, their myths and oral stories, spirits and demons, as well as climatic and scientific data—geographical, botanical, and zoological information—the work attends to the tension between prediction and premonition into the ecological obliteration. The Sundarbans are a highly endangered ecosystem, which degradation has irreversibly accelerated in the last decade. The land is paper-flat and is crisscrossed by rivers bulging with meltwater from the Himalayas; cyclones frequently roar in off the Bay of Bengal, and flooding is pervasive. In the aftermath of the cyclones, when the waters recede, a set of embankments are built by the villagers in accordance with the previous shoreline. These act as the first wall of protection to prevent the erosion and loss of land. But with the water levels rising these embankments have also begun to sink, becoming markings of geological time, and leaving the villagers without defense against climate change.