Comments on Bhopal to Bridgehampton Performance by University of Roehampton STP Drama Students – 2 May 2014
I was a delighted to see the students’ performance was a very considered interpretation of Paul Antick’s experimental essay. I loved the essay, and thought it would have been tricky to dramatise it with originality, but they completely made it their own and it was very well done. The studio space, where the audience wraps around the stage floor, also made for an intimate performance, and the audio-visuals at either side of the theatre and constant attention to water throughout all made for a valid and moving memorial to those who died in, and since, 1984. The bit that got me, and still does, was when they wiped ‘Bhopal’ off the floor with a broom at the end of the performance.
The students appeared dedicated to their roles – amazing since during the panel discussion Kim and Beth (two of the performers) pointed out that before they started many of them had never heard of the Bhopal disaster, and many of them were not even born in 1984!
The Politics of Disaster Representation Panel Discussion
No less than it was the first formal audience that my Bhopal: Facing 30 work had received – with portraits rolling on a large projector screen behind us – I was also very pleased to be invited on the panel as it was formed of fantastic people from different backgrounds and with very interesting insights into Bhopal, and disaster representation in general.
Dr. Michelle Lamb (Director, Crucible Centre for Human Rights Research) said something very interesting about the representation of the Bhopal disaster – that the people were not identified – and I found this particularly pertinent to my project and I couldn’t agree more. By taking family portraits of the people that live around the Union Carbide wall, I am doing the exact opposite. I am giving a focus to the people, and I want to represent them with dignity, not as victims. Representation is a very important factor in my project and I want to build an image of positivity for the people. They have been fighting for justice for thirty years and are strong and courageous and deserve to be recognised.
A question from the audience asked me, “If you portray the people not to be victims is that not giving the wrong impression?”
His concern was whether am I miss-representing the families to make everyone think everything is OK in Bhopal now; to make you think there is no more contamination, third generation birth defects are not prevalent and there are no ongoing health issues. It is an interesting point, which leads me to explain my vision for the portraits. I didn’t want to add to the images I have seen before whereby the people are portrayed as victims. I see the family members that I photographed as survivors who have been fighting for justice for what happened in Bhopal thirty years ago, and consequentially they have been fighting ever since. To survive means to carry on despite hardship or trauma, to outlive, to persevere, to remain alive and in existence. These are all attributes that commend the strength of the people.
My fear is that if people continue to be represented as victims we are removing their dignity and strength. I wanted to applaud that strength by representing them to the world as I saw them; charismatic, united, powerful and optimistic.
And if you see these Bhopal: Facing 30 portraits of families sitting proud and think everything’s OK, so why did I take them, then I challenge those people to read more, investigate more, and discover that there are more horrors than you can imagine inflicted on the undeserving people of Bhopal.
Colin (Bhopal Medical Appeal) said one thing; that they have never had to exaggerate anything, that the facts of Bhopal are all too true.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the evening’s performance and the discussion. It was a great experience for me, and I only wish it could have lasted longer!
Thanks to the Students for all their hard work and to Jennifer Parker-Starbuck who chaired the evening. And thanks also to the panel and the audience for a compelling discussion.
Panel discussants: Chair: Dr. Jennifer Parker-Starbuck (Reader in Department of Drama, Theatre & Performance, University of Roehampton), Colin Toogood (Bhopal Medical Appeal), Dr. Michelle Lamb (Director, Crucible Centre for Human Rights Research), Paul Antick (Senior Lecturer, Photography, University of Roehampton), Dr. Jonathan Skinner (ed. ‘Writing the Dark Side of Travel’), Francesca Moore (photographer: ‘Bhopal: Facing 30’), Kim & Beth (2nd year STP students).