Ravi Agarwal

Below the aesthetic radar: Ecology as a counter-image

Images play a powerful role in shaping the way we imagine the world, and thus offer frames for making sense of our existence in and with relationship to that world. The present ecological crisis finds its origins in capitalism, as economic growth based on the conversion of natural resources into wealth became an end in itself. This crisis is now being examined through the concept of the Anthropocene—the current geological age, in which the human being has become the decisive geological causal force. This condition of planetary-level ecological crisis is fortified by widely circulated images of nature as something to be acted upon by our species. In its most benign guise, nature is framed in terms of landscape as aesthetic spectacle. These socially constructed images reflect a power relationship, and are embedded in and help shape, our cultural, social and political ideas about nature. They hide other dynamics through which nature is ‘produced’ as a lived category. Photography can offer imagery that shows the complex interplay between the human and non-human, thus offering a new aesthetics of ecology to counter the dominant narrative.


Ravi Agarwal is an artist, environmental activist, writer and curator. His current interest span questions around ecology and society, urban space and capital in interrelated ways. He works with photographs, video, on-site installations and public art. His work has been shown very widely internationally, including at Documenta XI, the Sharjah Biennial (2013), and Indian Highway (2009). He co-curated the Yamuna-Elbe, Indo German twin city public art and ecology twin city project in 2011. He has been appointed co-curator of the Indo-German public art event to be held in Chennai, India by the Goethe Institute, in January 2017. He has published several artist’s diaries, and books.
Ravi is also the founder of the Indian environmental NGO Toxics Link which has pioneered work on waste and chemicals, and campaigns on conserving urban rivers and the forest. He serves on several high level government policy and standards committees, and writes extensively on sustainability issues in journals and books. He was awarded the UN Special Recognition Award for Chemical Safety (2008) and the Ashoka Fellowship (1997). He works and lives in New Delhi and is an engineer by training.