Memories of Darkness
Made by Sriram Venkiteswaran
Assignment: Design a permanent installation that gives voice to an otherwise voiceless community. The installation must give community members the opportunity to interact with the public and communicate their concerns. The installation can be focused on a particular topic (gun violence, poverty, etc.) or open to any topic.
We are not expendable. We are not flowers offered at the altar of profit and power. We are dancing flames committed to conquering darkness and to challenging those who threaten the planet and the magic and mystery of life."
- Rashida Bee, gas survivor
Bhopal is a city in central India in the state of Madhya Pradesh. On the night of December 2-3 1984 at the Union Carbide pesticide plant, a gas leak occurred. Over 500,000 people were exposed to methyly isocyanate(MIC) gas and other chemicals. The toxic substance made its way into and around the shanty towns located near the plant. The Bhopal Gas Tragedy is considered as the world’s worst industrial disaster. The loss of life was estimated to be over 16000 and at least 500,000 people were affected for life. The continued effects of the tragedy can be seen even today where children are born with malformations and brain damages. Largely considered to be caused by negligence from within, Union Carbide Corporation and its Indian subsidiaries have largely succeeded in marginalizing the story of the disaster that sullied their reputation.
Bhopal disaster unlike Minamata, Hiroshima or the Thalidomide scandal has no place in the iconography of industrial disasters. It lacks an identifiable symbol that feeds both memory and resistance. The only memorial that exists at the site is a modest statute sculpted by Dutch artist Ruth Kupferschmidt.
The tragedy that occurred at Bhopal 30 years ago is one that extends even today. Several people were rendered blind who are even today fighting to achieve justice for the events that destroyed their entire lives and the lives of future generations.
Bhopal Gas Tragedy is the world’s worst industrial disaster, yet so little about it is known to the world. The victim’s cry for justice often goes unheard.
I wanted to envision an installation that could speak to the masses. Something that could act as a memorial and could be empathized with.
A memorial commemorating the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and its victims have been a long standing demand of the supporters of the cause. In 2005, almost 20 years after the tragedy, the State Government of Madhya Pradesh decided to build a memorial complex. I felt that this space would be perfect for an installation that can be inherently reflective and interactive at the same time.
The proposed memorial is built over the currently deserted factory area. The remnants of the unfortunate factory is kept as it is as a tribute to the victims.
The installation had to be something that could act as a memory for the lives lost. I designed my idea with the following in mind
I decided to design my installation around the structure of a tree. Trees are a symbol of life. Trees are historically known to be used as memorials but in this case the tree would also act as a beacon for the voice of the masses.
The aim of this installation is to raise awareness to the tragedy and give voice to the unheard. So the installation had to interact with the masses from any point in the globe.
The people who are walking around or visiting the memorial can see in real time how the message of awareness is spreading throughout the world in real time just by observing the tree ebb and flow out of life.
Another implementation that came to my mind was, there could be emotion sensors all around the memorial space. By detecting the overall emotion of the people around, such as anger, sadness, calmness, the tree lights could change color.
I envision this installation as something that can bring people together. You hear about events that happen once a year, like a flower that blooms only for a week in the summer. It could become a culture of sorts, every year December 3rd people would gather around the tree and watch it bloom, and realize that the world hasn't forgotten the Bhopal Gas Tragedy of 1984.
This installation is called Memories of Darkness. A tribute to the victims of the disaster who were left blind and whose lives were filled with darkness hence. Trees have always been used to symbolize life. There have been many instances throughout history and lore where trees have been used to celebrate life. such as the Anne Frank tree memorial.
Another inspiration was the tree from Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkein where the white tree of Gondor was dead until a worthy king sat on the throne. The tree bloomed giving rise to hope.