Statue of Impunity

Concept, 3D Rendering
[Done in collaboration w/ Sumanth Krishna]

Providence, RI


In response to a prompt in James Goggin’s ( elective at RISD ‘XYZ–Graphic Design in Space’, I was researching statues and monuments built by governments - and in India, it’s quite hard to speak about statues without focusing on the Statue of Unity. Standing at 700 feet tall, the statue of eminent Indian politician Sardar Vallabhai Patel, is four times the height of the Statue of Liberty, and towers over the Narmada Valley in the state of Gujarat in India. I was struck by the gigantic scale of the project —which of course was born out of a need to be able to boast about having built the world’s largest statue in India--however, what was unsurprisingly not reported is the impact that such a monstrous structure had on the area that it now occupies, and the people that used to call that area home, before. In order to beautify the area around the statue, the Government of India decided to let out the Sardar Sarovar Dam, one of India’s largest dam projects, resulting in the two villages of Limdi and Navagaon to be submerged under water. The villagers, approximately 2,500 in number, were given little to no notice to evacuate and leave their entire lives behind, and to this date, several years since the statue’s completion, are still waiting to be relocated and living in temporary camps set up for them in the middle of the desert. 

The government, though, through their control of the Indian media, managed to keep this information mostly away from national news, thereby using the media as an opaque layer between them and the lives that they ruined. 

I reimagined the memorial to Patel, this time making sure to include a narrative of the people whose lives the statue displaced, by encasing 2500 human figures in a glass pedestal, under the statue’s feet, and submerging them in water, inside this case. I then wrote a kind of eulogy to their lives, and developed this 3d experience that one must walk around the gigantic structure to read. I am working on embedding this virtual world into a website, so that visitors can freely move about the space and learn about the impact that it had. Finally, the website will prompt the viewer to better use the 120 Rs that It costs to visit the compound of the Statue, by donating it to the Narmada Bachao Andolan - an activist group that works towards relocating, and advocating for the lives of people displaced by State projects in the area.

While I went through an extremely extensive process to get to this point int he project, I was left questioning a lot about my own work and the ethics of making it. Am I appropriating these peoples’ struggle to make a grad school project? I was never submerged under water due to the impact of the statue - so do I even have the right to make this work? And honestly, I don’t have an answer to this. I am struggling with it, but decided that I should present this struggle to give you an idea of where I am right now.