“The dry well outside the huge wooden weathered door had seen better days. The massive house, the largest in the village, built in the traditional style of a haveli, was now full of dust, and was beginning to crumble in places. It was also un-inhabited and said to be over 150 years old….Behind the 50 locks on the 50 odd rooms, which all led to smaller inner rooms, of this once thriving abode, were objects of memories- or what remained of them. The palatial house had already been stripped and burgled twice by gangs of thieves…Here in one corner, in the set of rooms, on the first story was where I spent two months of each year of my growing up years, along with my mother. It was during the hot summer months, when my school was closed in the city and where I lived. It was here that I formed my earliest childhood memories of land and landscapes, of camels and water, or curd and grain, of peacocks and snakes, of ghosts and myths. Here in my mother’s room. Now a shamble of its original self. Abandoned. Barren. Like the rest of the landscape. Millet farms had given way to mining, myths to machines. Stone dust was in the air…”

Ravi Agarwal, The Haveli of Memories

The ongoing project The Desert of the Anthropocene (2013-present) traverses and contrasts a personal memory of a desert homeland in a now abandoned ancestral home with new capitalistic exploitation of the “barren” landscape. Pointing towards the loss of the local leading to the breakdown of ecological constructs of identity, food systems, water, and land, the terrain is now increasingly thought of as infertile, leading to it being a ground for nuclear testing, new industrial mining and capital intensive irrigation canals. Meanwhile, the dried-up wells, ponds, loss of livelihoods, and the slow disappearance of a rich culture is leading to another kind of human evacuation. Yet, what is considered bare or barren is in fact deeply inhabited and fertile in multiple ways.

The long engagement is a part of an ongoing investigation into the current state of the nature, both as a crisis which traverses a political realm, but also a cultural contestation of how ‘nature’ is thought of in the era of the Anthropocene. Nature has been impersonalised into an abstract idea to be exploited, even as on the ground everyday inhabitations of lived ecologies weave in and out of the human life, and contest the idea of a homogeneous nature. In many ways the reductionist binary man–nature has taken over other cultural ways in which nature is or can be inhabited, and brings into question the current overarching approach towards sustainability.

Ravi Agarwal has an inter-disciplinary practice as an artist, photographer environmental campaigner, writer and curator. www.raviagarwal.com, www.toxicslink.org, www.sharedecologies.org

More articles

Jan 16 2024

An ancient Chinese text that’s surprisingly relevant today

by Richard Heinberg in Resilience.org….I’ll leave the last words to the Old Master, this time from the Bahm translation: Whenever someone sets out to remold the...
Oct 10 2023

‘I couldn’t believe the data’: how thinking in a foreign language improves decision-making

Research shows people who speak another language are more utilitarian and flexible, less risk-averse and egotistical, and better able to cope with traumatic...
Apr 20 2023

The surprising thing A.I. engineers will tell you if you let them

by Ezra Klein, The New York Times…This is an example of “alignment risk,” the danger that what we want the systems to do and what they will actually do could...
Apr 15 2023

This changes everything

In a 2022 survey, A.I. experts were asked, “What probability do you put on human inability to control future advanced A.I. systems causing human extinction or similarly...
Apr 15 2023

Regular old intelligence is sufficient–even lovely

Precisely twenty years ago, I published a book called “Enough” that outlined my fears about artificial intelligence and its companion technologies like advanced...
Apr 13 2023

Q&A with Noam Chomsky about the future of our world for the SXSW23 Wonder House

Q&A with Noam Chomsky about the Future of our world. We asked Noam Chomsky about the future of our world, our systems of government and power and our need to come...
Apr 13 2023

The A.I. Dilemma

The challenges of AI for human culture.

Apr 13 2023

Elon Musk and others call for pause on A.I., citing ‘profound risks to society’

More than 1,000 tech leaders, researchers and others signed an open letter urging a moratorium on the development of the most powerful artificial intelligence...
Apr 12 2023

The age of AI has begun

Artificial intelligence is as revolutionary as mobile phones and the Internet.

Apr 12 2023

Our new promethean moment

To observe an A.I. system — its software, microchips and connectivity — produce that level of originality in multiple languages in just seconds each time, well, the...