Arting for Health: Khana, Kheti Aur Hum
05 Sep 2018
Trucks of India are magnificent canvases—visuals that are often anchored in sharp social commentary. The Indian highways are open galleries of moving art works, which often have a message to share with the onlookers. Therefore, it is only logical to explore the use of truck art as a medium to communicate with the public.
Using ‘truck art’ as the medium of discourse, the public engagement initiative—Kheti, Khana Aur Hum (Farm, Food and Nutrition)—aims to stimulate conversations on India’s food and nutrition security scene. This initiative is supported by the Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance (India Alliance) in collaboration with the Happy Hands Foundation in India and is a part of a three-country project on Art and Health—Arting Health for Impact—supported by the Wellcome Trust, in Botswana, India, and South Africa. “At the India Alliance, we constantly strive to bring together the scientific community and the public to share, debate, and deliberate on important scientific and human health issues that have implications on the society at large,” says Dr. Sarah Iqbal, Public Engagement Officer, India Alliance. She adds that use of traditional Indian truck art as a street art form to highlight the complexities of our food system and how it impacts our health and well-being, is perhaps a first of its kind initiative in India.
India faces a paradoxical situation concerning food and nutrition: India is home to a quarter of the world’s hungry, and it has the second highest number of obese children in the world. This situation is aggravated by the new challenges pertaining to agriculture such as slowing agriculture growth, climate change, land degradation, and shrinking biodiversity. Imbalanced fertilizer use has given rise to large tracts of barren farmlands in India. Depleted water tables resulting from unsustainable farming practices are the norm across the country. The last straw is the adverse health effects of the rampant use of agrochemicals. Consequences of climate change such as erratic or decreased rainfall and rising temperature will further add to our woes by affecting agriculture adversely.
Additionally, our modern diets are moving away from traditional home-cooked fresh meals. “Relying largely on packaged food products that are high in fats, sugars, or salt (HFSS) exposes us to a plethora of risk factors”, says Dr. Shweta Khandelwal, Associate Professor, Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi. Optimum nutrition is essential for optimal health. Equally important is the quality or rather safety of the food that is consumed. Pesticide residues in food have been linked to many neurological disorders, especially in children, including attention-deficit disorder, dyslexia, dementia, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia and has been shown to effect reproductive health in women. The “cancer train” of Punjab is just one example of how grim the situation can be if thoughtful actions are not taken and the public is not duly sensitized.
In India, Kheti, Khana Aur Hum was launched in Chandigarh, Punjab, which being the epicentre of the Green Revolution has seen both the benefits as well as ill effects of it. During the course of the project, 18 artists from Punjab engaged with health experts, farmers, and their own communities through workshops and field visits to understand the state of Indian agriculture and the farmers. Discussions on the impact of diet on health were held. The central idea of the project was to provoke reflections on the issues that were consequently portrayed in the form of truck art—an art form integral to the agriculture and food network of India.
Dr. Banalata Sen, Environment Health Consultant says, “Kheti, Khana Aur Hum brings together different aspects of our food ecosystem to engage the public in a holistic conversation about the farm to plate continuum. The consumer must understand how their choices can impact agricultural practices and policies and the farmer—the Anndatta (supplier of food) —who is under duress nationwide. Traditional and folk arts in India have primarily been used for narrating religious stories. This was an opportunity to use India's rich art heritage to stimulate conversations on social issues.”
The fruit of labour of this initiative is an ongoing (31 August–5 September 2018) public exhibition of the artistic introspections at the Government Museum and Arts Gallery, Chandigarh, Punjab. The art exhibition, which was inaugurated on 31 August 2018, is unique in the way that it provided the sustainable farmers, scientists, artists, and public a common platform to discuss issues related to health and agriculture. Some of the artwork will soon find a place on the bodies of trucks and other public spaces in India so that these conversations can continue beyond Punjab.
“It feels like an awakening to know that I can use my art to drive social messages”, says Gurjeet Singh whose 3D art installation asks the viewer—do you know what’s on your plate? Kulpreet, a well-known artist from Patiala, understood and expressed the graveness of soil contamination through his work “organic please”. He says that now he realizes that art is not just beautiful but powerful as a medium of communication. Many of the participating artists could appreciate the farmer’s role in our lives and our well-being and therefore, have depicted issues with farmers at the heart of it.
Engaging with the artists and the public at the exhibition, Rahul Sharma, a sustainable farmer, narrated the “story of food—from hunting and gathering to modern farming” and was able to elicit very thought-provoking questions: “We are moving towards urbanization and using up our cultivable land; in such a scenario, how do we feed our growing population while keeping the food still safe to eat. How do we find the balance”, a school student asks.
This question sums up how we need to shape the future of food and nutrition security and agriculture in India—by finding a balance to safeguard our health and that of our future generations.