Ways of Seeing Wetness

Wasafiri - Professor Pamila Gupta

I FIRST CONCEPTUALISED this piece whilst residing in Cape Town, South Africa over the months of March and April  and during the height of an acute water crisis. I had spent six weeks experiencing what it meant to live in a city that is running out of water, where its taps could run dry. I was one of the more fortunate ones, both because I was staying in Stellenbosch, which at the time was not as bad off as neighbouring Cape Town, and because I was only there for the short term, my permanent residence being Johannesburg. During my time in the Western Cape, I witnessed daily reminders of a looming Day Zero which was perpetually postponed; it was first set for April then August and then it pushed its clock back to , perhaps because Cape residents did take heed, at the time, anyways. Strict water measures included leaving swimming pools dry, not watering lawns or plants, taking five minute showers, and availing of hand sanitiser in public bathrooms to replace running water.

In Stellenbosch, I saw a clever advertising campaign in English and Afrikaans to appeal to residents to take care of the world’s most precious commodity; that is, water. Perhaps the crisis had been averted. I was neither sure at the time nor did I think that Johannes burg was so far behind Cape Town. Looking back on that period from a very different moment, while we are in the midst of another crisis, an unprecedented global pandemic on a much larger scale, that catastrophe looks small in comparison, yet even more relevant to our changed times, as dependent on water as we are for our lives and livelihoods. art criticism, Ways of Seeing (), the late essayist John Berger suggests that the way we see things is determined by what we know, and that this relationship is never settled. In this meditative piece, I take up his point to explore creative ways of seeing (and thus reading, interpreting, writing about, and curating specifically) water on the earth that we have inherited; I also push his ideas beyond the visual to encompass other ways of feeling, knowing, and understanding.

My weathered subject is the monsoons (from the Ara bic mausim meaning ‘season’), an annual weather pat tern and storm system distinct to the Indian Ocean (see Pearson), with South Asia – and more specifically India – my geographic focus. This article is a curatorial experiment: it provides a way of thinking through monsoon matters (and specifically its earthy wetness) by way of its visual, as well as sensorial, and affective attunements in changing places and times, akin to Sarah Nuttall’s harnessing of ‘pluviality’ as a conceptual framing connecting intense rainfall with oceanic and literary ecologies (–). It is simultaneously an unfolding narrative of personal contemplation, a return to certain images and texts in the context of different social and environmental circumstances, and a style of writing that very much follows the meditative ruminations of T J Clark who in his treatise The Sight of Death: An Experiment in Art Writing, takes you on his own journey of seeing, and reactivates looking attentively whilst thinking politically. 

For more on the journal article, click here.