Climate Change and the Arts – Shimla Workshop Highlights

Shimla Wildlife Sanctuary Hike 2015

ICI participants learn about ecosystem services and local conservation practices at the Shimla Water Catchment and Wildlife Sanctuary.

For almost a week this summer, the India China Institute hosted a series of meetings, discussions and talks with a group of artists from India, China, Nepal and the US in the old hill station town of Shimla, located in the Indian Himalayas of Himachal Pradesh. Coming from a wide range of backgrounds, the group was tasked with a seemingly simply–but in reality extremely complex challenge–how to think about the role of artists and creative practitioners in discussions and debates about climate change, that amorphous and seemingly all-encompassing term currently in vogue.

A year earlier, in the fall of 2014, the India China Institute had hosted a day-long workshop and meeting with a group of artists and creative thinkers in Kathmandu, Nepal to think about a similar question. You can read more about that meeting here. That meeting, and the one held earlier this summer, are all helping ICI to lay the groundwork for what may become a new initiative in the future. Climate Change Himalaya: Engaging the Arts and Humanities, as we have tentatively dubbed this emerging initiative, hopes to move beyond the historical emphasis on natural sciences, and then later social sciences, as the central lens for thinking about climate change-related issues. ICI wanted to better understand how artists, filmmakers, writers, performance artists, sculptors, dancers and other artists were making sense of these complex issues, and in particular, how this is taking place within and across the Himalayas.

Shimla Hills 2015

Typical hillside view in Shimla.

With the old British hill station town of Shimla as our backdrop, this group of artists from four countries shared some of their own work and discussed how they were already engaging with local issues and challenges in their work: the invisibility of the Yamuna River in urban Delhi, the loss of nature awareness (birds in particular) among Indian youth, issues of genetic ownership and bio-piracy in modern agriculture, and the relationship of non-human suffering and meat consumption to resource use and environmental pollution.

In between long sessions thinking about how artists engage with these issues, the group had the change to learn more about the history of the area (both colonial and ecological), as well as spend some time exploring the town, including several wonderful guided interpretive tours with local Shimla friends.

While no simple answers were reached by the group in relation to how artists can best engage with climate issues, everyone agreed these are important issues that each person will continue to grapple with in their own practices, from the studio to the gallery, and from the classroom to the streets. Sometimes the most important part of the discussion is initiating the process of deliberation, and being open to where it may take us. As this initiative continues to develop, ICI hopes to continue to engage a wide range of artists, both here in New York and with our partners in India, China and Nepal.

You can learn more about this emerging initiative right here. Stay tuned for more updates as this exciting project develops. If you are an artist interested in these issues, feel free to drop us an e-mail here.

Thinking About Climate Change and the Arts in Nepal

This afternoon and evening we had the opportunity to spend the day with an amazing group of Nepali writers, poets, journalists, filmmakers and creative intellectuals and think about how the arts and humanities connect with issues related to climate change. The event, hosted at the City Museum, Kathmandu in collaboration with Lasanaa, a local artists collective, was the first of a series of events that ICI hopes to foster in the coming months and years.

Some of the initial questions or ideas raised by people at the table included:

– How to move beyond talk and get action on climate change and other social issues?
– Connecting with and using the mainstream media to tell our story.
– How to talk about climate change from an artistic perspective?
– Spiritual to practical to performance journeys linking Kailash to Kathmandu.
– Role of theatre, performance and local needs-based expressions (local vernacular) to address local issues in local communities.
– How to balance science and communication and not too much doom-and-gloom in the process?
– Using education and teaching to change views of youth and improve educational curriculum.
– How to use environmental poetry and communication as part of addressing climate change.

Participants at the City Museum, Kathmandu talk about the relationship between arts and humanities and climate change.

Participants at the City Museum, Kathmandu talk about the relationship between arts and humanities and climate change.

We also distributed two articles to the group dealing with some of the connections between climate change and the arts and humanities, with the hope that these initial articles will inspire further dialogue.

  • Melting Ice: Climate Change and The Humanities by Jennifer Wells and Carolyn Merchant [PDF]
  • Representing, Performing and Mitigating Climate Change in Contemporary Art Practice by Gabriella Giannachi [PDF]


One of the main challenges that seemed to appear during the conversations was how to move from ideas and discussion to action steps and concrete plans? Everyone agrees these discussions are important, but the urgency of climate change also calls us to action sooner rather than later.

One of the key ideas that the group seemed to return to in one form or another was the importance of education in reaching out and interacting with young people on climate issues. Some of the examples discussed included developing artistic residencies,  working to change  classroom lessons and curriculum, creating public art to raise awareness, and developing plays or storybook that young people can engage with directly.

Another of the ideas that seemed to resonate with the group was having spaces to share our work and ideas, but to do so in realistic ways that acknowledge everyone is already busy and has limited resources. We hope our efforts to facilitate these discussions, as well as providing a virtual space for these discussions to continue and expand.

Following this discussion, everyone quickly jumped up and the space was re-arranged and returned to its original gallery form. From there the evening performance by Ashmina Ranjit, and the art work of her father KG Ranjit, got into full swing.

Here is one of KG Ranjit’s pieces, which also appeared as the cover the the event handout today.

Nature Rage by KG Ranjit

Nature Rage by KG Ranjit


Here are a few images from the opening hour of Ashmina Ranjit’s performance as well.

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