A silent picture of a toxic legacy
I've just spent a very chilling few minutes in a 40-foot black shipping container, delivered earlier this week from India. This container doesn't house exported trade goods from Asia, but an audio-visual art installation invoking some of the sights and sounds of the worst industrial catastrophe in living memory - the Bhopal disaster.
In 1984, a toxic gas leak from the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal killed between 7,000 and 10,000 as winds spread the gas into the surrounding shantytowns. Many died instantly, others perished as they tried to flee the fumes. Over 20,000 people died in the aftermath of the leak, and more than 100,000 were permanently injured.
Artist Somar Jodha's metal container transports you to Bhopal in December 1984 through his photographs and soundscapes. Along one side of the metal container, black and white photos show the pesticide plant as it is today - abandoned, decaying and still contaminating the surrounding habitat. As you walk through the enclosed space, a soundscape recreates the noise of gas escaping the plant, the hum of the factory and the chirp of crickets, and, at the very end, a gasp as a victim struggles to breathe.
Facing these images, along the entire length of the container, Jodha remembers every single one of Bhopal’s victims through 40 feet of names, typed close together on a stretched ‘wrap’. Many individuals are remembered simply as 'child' or 'baby'. If you can't visit our offices in London, we've created a short film with many of the images and the soundscape to export the fear and poison further from Bhopal and let others experience what the communities there have lived with for over twenty years.
Union Carbide, owner of the Bhopal pesticide plant, was bought by Dow Chemical. The site hasn't been cleaned up but Dow denies any responsibility for both the clean-up and for compensating those affected.
Now, in 2012, Dow Chemical is a major Olympic sponsor - something those affected by the Bhopal disaster consider a cynical attempt to greenwash their image. The London Olympic Committee Organising Group (LOCOG) and its chairman Lord Coe have repeatedly defended Dow, in proxy dismissing the Bhopal survivors. The Olympics shouldn't be tainted by the toxic legacy of the Bhopal disaster.
The container is here at the Human Rights Action Centre until July 31, and if you're nearby I recommend you find the time to visit to experience it for yourself - our films and photos are no substitute.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.