A photography exhibition by Rama Aadhithan, Sudhanva Atri and Jagdish Krishnaswamy that explores the relationship between nature and the built environment in different cities.
In December 2021, when I visited Delhi for a workshop, we were taken to a basti (informal settlement) near one of the most famous markets in Delhi. Having lived in Delhi in the past, the city wasn’t new to me. I had heard of INA, Delhi Haat, Sarojini Nagar and the other landmarks our field coordinator mentioned in reference to the fairly unknown location of Kidwai Nagar basti. As I entered the basti I felt I was entering a labyrinth.
Fritz Lang directed ‘Metropolis’ in 1927. It was meant to be a futuristic urban dystopia, where the poor live underground and work for their masters who live in huge buildings. This film has become the reality of how our cities are being designed and how the people who actually build the cities live.
Almost a century later, the city of Delhi seems to replicate such science fiction films. The poor live under the constant threat of evictions, await resettlement and face the heat and floods caused by climate change. Their homes are constantly encroached for development projects, pushing them further towards misery. Kidwai Nagar basti houses more than 400 families that still live in these conditions in 2022.
Despite the rapid and sometimes permanent changes brought on by urbanisation to the natural environment, nature repeatedly shows the ability to claim, adapt and shape the human-built environment. ‘Crossing Thresholds’ is an exhibit of photographs that explores the relationship between nature and the built environment across a few south Indian cities of Bengaluru, Hampi, Madikeri, Pondicherry, Pulicat and Ooty.
We have observed that the built environment is being used by a variety of species of vertebrates and invertebrates for shelter, camouflage, housing, as a pit-stop, lookout post and a location for sources of food. All these species play vital roles in urban ecology, which has a direct impact on human beings.
These observations will perhaps encourage us to be more inclusive of nature while designing our built environments.