If in contemporary times, global mobility, on the one hand, promoted utopian views of a smooth flow of people, hybrid cultures and borderless states. Then, on the other hand, it also resulted in fractured geographies, surveillance states and the militarised control of people and natural resources across continents. If this scenario has given rise to diasporic cultures it has also brought about a sharp increase in the population of refugees and people in exile leading to unsettled zones of stateless citizens. How does art or photographic practice produce critical interventions within such political or cultural climate? Can there be new creative possibilities to form adequate ways of critically expressing political realities, mass displacements and the state’s hypocrisy? How should the artist-activist, through documentary strategies, represent stateless citizens without giving into the humanitarian politics of victimisation?
Prasiit Sthapit’s ‘Change of Course’ series is a venture into aesthetically and critically negotiating images of political and calamitous circumstances where displaced people across borders are stuck in disputed lands and are denied privileges of national citizenry. The series looks into an area where the constant shift in the geographical course of a river has become a regular threat to the imprint of the village’s land remaining on the map of the region. Susta, the disputed region, was once perched firmly on the west bank of the Narayani River, which was long considered as the border between Nepal and India. But with the river changing course due to climate change, and cutting persistently into Nepali territory, the village today finds itself on the east of the Narayani. India maintains the new course of the river as the boundary while Nepal disagrees, making Susta a contested portion of Nepal within India, surrounded on three sides by India, and on the fourth by the Narayani. It is estimated that 14,860 hectares have come under Indian encroachment thus far. According to media news reports (The Himalayan Times on 30th June 2011) the Narayani had breached 135 hectares of farmland during the monsoon inSusta. The locals presume that the river has breached around 100 mts of land inwards this year alone. This has been occurring at an accelerated rate for almost a decade now. “Now it’s just the farms but in 2 years time the river will start eroding the village if nothing is done”, exclaims Rampyare Kurmi, a local. “There is the ‘Save Susta Campaign’ (a local movement established to protest against Indian advancement into their land) and the continuous struggle of the locals with the changing course of the river. But what are the issues that will be left to resolve if the land itself doesn’t exist anymore, ask the locals?
Looking at the banishment of locals, inequalities of social mobility and violence executed in the name of nations, at Susta, Prassit Sthapit in his series attempts at creating and mobilising images which try to register the effects of the state of transmigration, being a refugee and a non-citizen.