Complexities of Water - Investigating Clean Water for Community

In 2014, I had a solo museum exhibition at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. That project outlined the history and present conditions of the Scajaquada River. The river was buried under the city of Buffalo in the 1800’s as a way to keep from dealing with the smell and pollution found in the water. Parts of the river remain buried and it continues to be polluted even as it is monitored by state and federal organizations.  My research and installation took about three years to put together, and it presented the complexity of how economy, government policies, lack of planning, lack of accessible information and climate change can dramatically erode an environmental and cultural asset.

It was during this installation that I was approached to consider doing a similar project about the Bagmati River that flows though the middle of Kathmandu, Nepal. I was excited about extending my body of work beyond the Western Hemisphere and to working with a culturally diverse community. After initial discussions with professionals, museum staff and community members in Kathmandu, it was clear that there was a great deal of interest in me starting a new project investigating the Bagmati River. I was granted a residency at the Kathmandu Contemporary Arts Center a few months later, and my research began in earnest. Jason Dilworth joined the venture early in 2016 and his work has been integral to the project’s success. During Jason’s and my first trip to Kathmandu in March of 2016, we were able to strengthen past connections to the project while building a larger network of individuals and groups committed to improving conditions in the Kathmandu Valley and the communities outside the valley who live along the river. Support for the Bagmati River Arts Project has grown steadily from the beginning through the assistance of Hatchfund donors, travel support through SUNY Fredonia and a Burchfield Penney Art Center grant. It has continued to grow through the sales of the project’s publications and the sales of my artwork.

The Bagmati River Arts Project includes:

A. an exhibition at the Siddhartha Art Gallery at Barbar Mahal Revisited in Kathmandu opening on November 20th, 2016. My artwork, water data from the Bagmati River and the video documentary will be presented on the second floor. The first will include artwork by Nepalese artists whose attention focuses with issues related to the Bagmati River. We are also working with the fine art faculty and students at Kathmandu University who will be creating work related to their cultural connections to the river.

B. a book is being published (available in November 2016) that documents the importance of the Bagmati River, the cause for the pollution, climate change effects on the Kathmandu Valley and its groundwater, and plans to improve the condition of the river. The role of this publication, like the exhibition, is to use aesthetics as a way to make the scientific data accessible to a wider audience. Artists from the United States and Nepal will be included in the publication. The publication will be made available in Kathmandu at no cost to the residents to assure wide dissemination of its data to a diverse communities. It also will be available in the United States and sold as a way to fund other parts of this project and future projects. A link to this finished book is available on this website.

C. a documentary video will document the project and include interviews with water quality and health professionals, community members as well a policy maker in Kathmandu. Songs by traditional Nepalese folk singers are incorporated throughout the video including a commissioned song about the Bagmati River. A link to this finished documentary is available on this website.

D. a brochure and poster written in Nepalese will also provide important accessible scientific and health data about the river. The poster and brochures will be distributed to the communities that live along the entire length of the river in Nepal. Members of the Bagmati River Expedition 2015 team, who created a comprehensive report about the river’s water quality, microinvertebrates, avian population and plastics data, have already established connections in these communities. We are working with Sujan Chitrakar and his graphic design students in designing the posters and brochures. Sujan is the Academic Program Coordinator and an Assistant Professor for Kathmandu University’s School of Art, Center for Art and Design.

All elements of the project listed above will be finished and presented at the opening of the exhibition in November 20, 2016 when Jason and I plan to return to Kathmandu.

An exciting extension to this project is the plan to ship the artwork, publication, documentary, brochures and posters back to the United States where it will tour around the country and, possibly, internationally. Water issues are a worldwide concern and the Bagmati’s perils are not unique. Our hope is that, by touring the exhibition and by combining it with site-specific exhibitions, audiences can create connections between their region and other global communities. There is a good deal that can be learned from the history of the Bagmati as well as from the grass roots efforts that created the Saturday Bagmati River clean-up program and the successful community health initiatives supported by the non-government organizations. All of these efforts has unified the underserved residents of the Kathmandu Valley to address the basic needs in their communities while creating hope and motivating government involvement.  

The Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, New York is very interested in the merits of the project and they have volunteered to promote and organize the touring exhibition.

For more information please contact

Project Leaders

Alberto Rey – Distinguished Professor in the Department of Visual Arts and New Media at the State University of New York at Fredonia, Director and Founder of S.A.R.E.P. Youth Fly fishing Program, and Orvis Endorsed Fly Fishing Guide

Jason Dilworth – Assistant Professor in the Department of Visual Arts and New Media at the State University of New York at Fredonia and founder and director of several social design projects.

More information available at: and

1 Like

@Matthias Look, don’t you miss the smell of Bagmati ?:slight_smile:

Lovely Bagmati

@Natalia_Skoczylas haha yes, Bagmati is unforgettable … I have a lively memory of this (stench on the) bridge above Bagmati on our usual cycle ride to Sanepa :smiley:

And @albertorey , about your initiative: the arts may indeed prove to be a key to get collective organizing going for river protection and cleanup. Example in question: I’m following a community in Mumbai doing regular cleanups on a local beach. They pulled some 3000 metric tons of plastic garbage from the ocean, but obviously the city always provides more. So back in July, a friend from Mumbai was looking for ways to catch the garbage while it’s carried in the river and before it reaches the shore, and together we found this barrier boom technology, produced locally in India by a company from Bangalore. So the tech part is solved in principle (and the barrrier can even be installed in a way that lets boats pass.) But we are at a loss how to organize people to get this thing purchased (or DIY made) installed. After reading about your approach, it seems to me that an arts and documentary project could be the missing social catalyst in a case like this. Showing people the progress they have made already, and how a river barrier is the logical next step for a lasting solution. Well, or that people stop littering, but let’s be realistic for the near term :slight_smile:

Lovely bagmati response

Yes the Bagmati does have its issues but it’s cultural importance is intriguing. The residents of Kathmandu have been cleaning up the banks of the river for the past 150 Saturdays and they have not missed a single Saturday yet even during the earthquake which is  it is remarkable. Yes I think that the arts has a way of bringing together a lot of different groups and using aesthetics is a way to introduce complicated issues  in a accessible manner.

@Matthias, I just came across this article about Washington's rivers… yet the situation not so much different from those we discuss here, and some tips how to engage in different ways with the area.