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Normalization of a Disaster (2020 )

Full HD Video, Color, Sound
08:35 mins, 16:9 
Baghjan, Assam


People who grow up in Assam are acquainted with the word ‘disaster’ at a rather early age. Bearing an uncanny synonymity with the phases of monsoon in the region, it’s a word that has been enforced into the local psyche through a systematic acquaintance, right from innocent topics in lower school textbooks, up to repeatedly sensationalized primetime headlines in local media outlets on television screens and newspapers. People come to accept the Brahmaputra Valley floods as a mere consequence of living in the region, with the effect of such events being brought down to a stagnant, almost hypnotic state of normalisation.

With every disaster, there is a clear split of demographics as observed. There are the victims and the survivors of the disaster, those who suffer the most, facing the brunt of the disaster’s repercussions. Then there are the front-line workers who orchestrate the management of the aftermath. Disasters such as the Baghjan Oil-blowout bring forward the third kind of associates, the curious onlookers, the ones who make such disasters an object of spectacle to be posed, pictured, and shared with their digital network: the disaster tourists. These disaster tourists reinforce the state of normalisation within the populace and reflect upon the daily lives of the unaffected neighbours.

The Baghjan Oil Blowout happened on 27th of May 2020, when a well caught fire, and subsequently exploded on 9th of June 2020 after leaking gas in the atmosphere for two weeks, continued to burn for 6 months, before being finally doused on 15th of November, 2020. This artificial disaster in an Oil-India Limited owned site has caused the displacement of more than 1600 families who were in the vicinity of the site of gas blowout. They were sheltered in makeshift relief camps in public schools, overcrowded and mismanaged during heights of Covid first wave. The assessment of environmental damage caused by the blowout to the adjacent ecological hotspots of Dibru-Saikhowa National park and the Maguri Motapung wetland areas are yet to be done.

For the duration of the blowout, for about six months, a section of the sky above my hometown was lit in bright orange. We’d sit in the terrace of my house with my friends, doing things one would usually do in a small town, often inevitably looking up towards the fire and romanticizing it.  Subsequently over the months, the video work has become a personal reminder of the hyper-normalized stance of observers towards calamities. The work on Baghjan Blowout has opened up a conversation that questions my own position as an observer juxtaposed over the position of being an artist. 

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