Gerry reflects on his trip to India to visit partners and communities Christian Aid works with, and relays how this has influenced his sculptures.
I was born and grew up in India, a profound experience for me. I left when I was 10, and hadn’t been back for 50 years. Though my upbringing was Jewish, I was surrounded by many other religions and cultures - Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism - with numerous temples, rituals and festivals. There was theatre everywhere.
So when Christian Aid approached me to travel with them to look at the effects of climate change in India, I felt a personal and intellectual connection with the project. My practice as an artist is very much issue-driven, and the inequalities that are the by-product of climate change are particularly pronounced in India.
Here is a rapidly growing country. While the metropolitan elite become wealthier, communities of people live in dire poverty. In the countryside, farmers have trouble growing their crops because of the extent of the pollution. I found the degree of inequality shocking.
But there is hope. What I especially admired about the partners that Christian Aid works with was their determination and commitment to demonstrating to communities affected by climate change how to help themselves and adapt. That, to me, is critical.
The farmers were amazing - these communities were very self-contained. The people were gracious, hospitable and industrious, trying hard to not just better their lives under the most adverse conditions, but also to stay together as a community.
On my return to the UK, I reflected on how I should respond to what I had seen, as an artist. Shall I make art that shows this, or that reflects this?
My sculptures aim to demonstrate the beauty of India in the midst of its degradation. I have used structures - temples, pylons, religious artefacts - giving them a twist, presenting them as expressions of poverty, showing them as part of a climatic change.
The beautiful, ornate temple of Bengal in my piece is made out of coal and ash. I am trying to take a subtle approach to the work rather than being overt.
In India change is needed but, at the same time, communities and the structures that bind them need to be conserved. It is a balance I am attempting to express in my work.
Being in India was like being inside a poem, so rich was the variety, so myriad the cultural influences. What I found most powerful, however, was how hard people are trying to help themselves, to overcome poverty not with posturing rallies and complaint, but by getting on with the work that needs to be done.
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