[Skip to content] [Skip to main navigation] [Skip to user navigation] [Skip to global search] [Accessibility information] [Contact us]

New display at the Horniman explores our relationship with water

The complex relationship between people and water in South Asia is explored in Pani, a new display opening on Saturday 20 May 2017.

Pani is the word used for water across large parts of South Asia. In this thought-provoking display, artist Daksha Patel uses symbols painted on terracotta water containers and a vibrant hybrid map to draw attention to the environmental threats facing rivers and water courses in the region, and the challenges encountered by the people and wildlife that depend upon this most precious resource. 

Satellite imagery of the Sundarbans region, drawing and embroidery merge on a large intricately decorated map highlighting the connection between nature and culture. The colours, patterns and stitching are inspired by the Horniman’s South Asian textiles collection, referencing social and cultural histories in the area and the symbols and marks found on hand-drawn and OS maps.  While partially hidden drawings of flora and fauna reveal species at risk of disappearing from the landscape because of environmental threats.  

Presented alongside the map are terracotta pots informed by different kinds of water-carrying vessels from the region held in the Horniman’s collection. Decorated with drawings of bacteria, chemical symbols and other molecules entering the water system they remind us of the impact of people on the environment. Each pot is misshapen to suggest the damage and harm pollutants can cause to wildlife, ecosystems and human health.

Daksha Patel says: ‘Maps construct ways of looking at the world, they can conceal as well as reveal. Pani is a hybrid map that merges satellite imagery, drawing and embroidery. By combining contemporary imaging technologies and traditional crafts, I wanted the image to move between different positions of looking. It looks down from a great height, but also invites a closer and more intimate inspection of its surface and material, pointing to the interconnections between nature and culture.’

Jo Hatton, our Keeper of Natural History says: ‘Water-based ecosystems in South Asia are some of the most important places on earth. Yet, the people, plants and animals living there face continuous challenges, and it is this that visual artist Daksha Patel explores and brings to our attention in Pani. Using a colourful satellite map festooned with digital drawings of the region’s flora and fauna, Daksha serves to remind us that some species (like the River Ganges Dolphin) might one day disappear from the landscape entirely. Her map also reveals how nature will never respect human boundaries. Deliberately damaged terracotta pots, hand decorated with drawings of chemicals, bacteria and other pollutants, focusses our attention on the challenges faced by both people and wildlife, and the consequences of our actions, as it is not only the plants and animals, but the people themselves, that also rely on this most precious resource.’

Pani is part of our artist commission programme which showcases artists’ responses to our collections through a variety of medium including fine art, performance and research residencies. 

Pani complements our forthcoming summer season of events and activities exploring the diversity of South Asian arts and their influence on contemporary culture in the UK.

You can see Pani in the Natural History Gallery from Saturday 20 May to Sunday 26 November 2017.  Entry to the Gallery is free.

The Horniman is grateful to Roseberys Fine Art Auctioneers for their generous support of this display.