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Chapter 2 : Reed Wall (2018)

Sculpture 20m X 3m

 

Baladmari, Goalpara, Assam

 

Wall-building as a collective exercise and   tool for community gathering and exchange.

 

Collaborators: Badarruddin Ali, Babu Chowdhury, Suku Begum, Fakaruddin Ahmed, and more members of  Baladmari Char 1 Village, Goalpara

Baladmari Char is a riparian neighborhood in Goalpara, Assam, precariously stretched along the banks of the Brahmaputra.

 

Inhabited mostly by fishermen communities, daily-wage workers, and craftsmen working with vernacular material, Baladmari poses a rural, fragile landscape set right against the might of the Brahmaputra. While most of the urban river-banks of Goalpara have been systematically concretized using retaining walls and sand-bags as flood aversion measures, the banks of Baladmari lay bare to the mercy of the river, as the villagers keep inching inwards from the bank following every monsoon.  

 

Following the stories of Mr. Ramu Chowdhury from back in Uzanbazar, I land up in Baladmari, trying to understand the principles of life in such a relaxed, sustainable yet volatile lifestyle. 

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The proximity of the land to the river in a way works wonders for the agrarian attitude of the community, with the land being lush and bountiful due to the constant watering and rich deposition from the river.

 

 

Every year post monsoon, after the flooding of the lands have receded leaving behind bruised and tattered marks on crumbly walls, the fresh, fertile silt settles on the farm lands. The rejuvenated soil facilitates the growth of jute plants among others in hordes all along the riverbank, dotting the landscape of the village with the overgrown lanky plants.

The villagers harvest the skin of the plant to be used as fiber or rope, and the tensile trunk of the grass is used as a building material for crafting a myriad of things ranging from toys to furniture to roofs and walls.

 

Heaps of drying parts of the plants appear as temporal, fragile sculptures scattered across the open fields. The aura of the village is aestheticized by these vernacular shapes created out of function, reflecting the inspiration contextual to the site. 

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The idea to create a wall presented itself directly out of the circumstantial influences in the site. The surrounding shapes of the land added to the inspiration, reflecting themselves in the form and material of the intervention.  

 

The absurdity of a grass wall used to stop a relentless force of nature expands upon the complex relationship of the community with the river, and their risky existence along its banks. The work contextualizes the irony of the river appearing as a threat to riverine communities, and at the same time, facilitating these literal straws of grass, upon which the villagers of Baladmari Char 1 hang on to during days of peril.  

 

The site for wall-making becomes a point of gathering and exchange through dialogue, and extends itself as a symbolic statement in the context of the social and cultural history of Baladmari.  

 

Undoubtedly, most of the wall is washed away within few hours. A section which remains is morphed into a temporal exhibition space of photographs made around the site during the process of wall-making. The re-activation of the space is intended to generate an impression of the action that outlasts its temporary being. 

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Special thanks to Hrishikesh Chowdhury, Bodoruddin Ali and Amit Chowdhury for the realisation of this project.