Art and its ideas have a special role to play in shaping our consciousness. Urban spaces, particularly those in rapidly expanding cities in new developing economies are in direct conflict with nature, as rivers, wetlands, green areas, are being changed to suit urbanization’s short-term goals. To help re-think urban space as democratic and in coexistence with nature, Embrace our Rivers was proposed as a public art project in the coastal megacity of Chennai, India. It was to be held on the estuary of the very polluted river Cooum. Thirteen artists—Indian and international—were invited to respond to the city’s rivers and canal systems.
They produced a myriad of new ideas. The project however could not be installed at site, as it was denied site clearance even after two years of it being proposed. The artist’s voice though found expression in an exhibition—DAMnedArt which was held at the local Lalit Kala Akademi, in February 2018. This book, a first on public art and ecology in India, is an outcome of this effort. It also locates the project in a wider context of public art practices in India and elsewhere, through invited essays, and calls for broader collaborations for urban sustainability.