‘sā Ladakh’ – South Asia’s highest altitude art exhibition in the Disko Valley challenges reckless development

The inaugural edition of the site-specific show, organised by Michael Pal, Director of the Austrian Cultural Forum, Ladakhi mountaineer Tenzing ‘Jammy’ Jamyang and designer Sagardeep Singh addresses the ecological crisis facing the Himalayan region of Ladakh owing to rampant  infrastructure. 

The exhibition has installations by famous international artists as well as artists from Ladakh. Some of the prime names associated with the exhibition include Vibha Galhotra, Sharbendu De, Nikolaus Geyrhalter, Małgorzata Stankiewicz, Robert Schabus, Jigmet Angmo and Tenzing Sonam, among others.

There are ten site-specific sculptures and installations in the Disko Valley: a remote, 20-acre plot of arid land surrounded by steep hills, which was once popular with hikers, tourists and more recently, mountain bikers.

Kicker of Plastics, a large bike ramp made from thousands of discarded single-use plastic items “collected in a single week from Leh”—a commentary on the “toxic environment created by the existing tourism sector in Ladakh.

Delhi-based artist Vibha Galhotra’s hillside textile installation arranges secondhand saris and other garments destined for landfill to spell: “YOU DON’T OWN ME”. The work asserts that our current era of “global boiling” stems from an imbalanced consumption of natural resources by those in power, as per Galhotra.

Soil scarcity has long been a detrimental issue in the Indian mountain city of Leh: perched at an altitude of around 12,000 ft, its position in a rain shadow cast by the towering peaks of the Himalayas has forced many of its inhabitants to navigate life with uneasy access to water or fertile ground for centuries.

In line with the show’s sustainability aims, the works are virtually all made from locally sourced, zero-waste materials, which have been salvaged or repurposed and are biodegradable. “We want to leave as little trace as possible,” says designer Sagardeep Singh.

A number of films and virtual reality (VR) works are also being shown over the course of the exhibition, some projected onto the rugged rock faces scattered across the site.

Traditional lifestyles are precisely what is being targeted when the government cites Ladakh’s “economic backwardness” as a key reason for encouraging rapid development in the region.

Traditional communities in Ladakh for generations, is referenced in Tundup Churpon’s installation of small clay sculptures dotted on a hillside, resembling upturned sheep hooves. The ceramicist says that sheep and goat herding, and other agrarian ways of life, are being lost among modern generations.

To learn the traditional himalayan art and craft at sā Ladakh, Local Futures are running a series of school workshops and other education programmes throughout the exhibition, focused on permaculture and indigenous sustainable building practices. 

These workshops allow children to access knowledge that was commonplace understanding in their communities just three or four decades ago.

A first-of-its kind show in the region, it will “foster a dialogue on climate-related issues” and “explore the role of art in a unique and fragile ecosystem”, its organisers say.

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