What is sacred? What is unclean? What divine powers dwell in these waters?
Taken between 2011 and 2014, this body of work depicts examples of some of the most pure and most polluted water in the world.
Every twelve years, the Indian city of Allahabad plays host to the Kumbh Mela, the world’s largest religious gathering, which lasts nearly two months and attracts tens of millions of Hindu devotees from all over the world. In 2013, Allahabad hosted the Maha Kumbh Mela, which occurs once every 144 years, and saw an estimated 120 million visitors. Pilgrims make this long journey, seeking absolvement from their sins and to end the cycle of rebirth through a holy dip at the Sangam—the most auspicious confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna, and the mythical Saraswati. Although the Ganges is documented as being one of the the world’s most polluted bodies of water, largely due to the effects of a swelling population and the dumping of industrial waste, it is also revered as the most holy, and therefore, pure, in the Hindu faith.
In Ladakh, runoff from the Himalayas feeds the Ganges and Indus rivers. Colorful prayer flags fly freely over the Indus river in accordance to the area’s predominantly Buddhist faith. Until fairly recently, this remote region has been able to escape the pollution seen elsewhere in India caused by industrial waste and overcrowding. As a result, the waters of the Indus and Zanskar rivers remain clean and clear at their convergence. The region’s unspoiled beauty has recently drawn an influx of tourists and made it a popular destination to shoot films, which has threatened the delicate ecosystem, wildlife, and livelihood of the local populations.
Aleksandra Matic is an art historian based in Chicago, IL. She is the Associate Director of Donor Travel for the Art Institute of Chicago. A graduate of the Art History program at Lake Forest College, she is a current MA candidate in Art History at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a focus on contemporary Indian and Eastern European visual art and gender studies. She is a volunteer at Center on Halsted, a member of the Arts Club of Chicago, and serves on the Emeritus Council of the Educational Travel Consortium (ETC).