The Ganga is celebrated in myth, venerated as a symbol central to the Hindu religious imagination and ritual life. It is also one of the planet’s most toxic, dangerously polluted rivers. Vast amounts of industrial effluent and human waste are daily poured into its waters, whether in the sacred city of Varanasi, with its riverbank cremations and untreated sewage, or downstream in Kanpur, with its tanneries and glue factories. The human cost of this poisoning of the environment is borne by the vulnerable subaltern communities, both hereditary and conscripted, whose livelihood forces them to work with, or in, the river. Chief among these are the Doms or funeral specialists of Varanasi and the workers in Kanpur’s industries. Stigmatised and marginalised by the prejudices of caste apartheid, they are also routinely exposed to health hazards. These are the ecological and social scenarios into which the artist Hari Katragadda has waded, during the last few years, with profound empathy and a quiet courage. We are proud to present his debut solo exhibition at Cymroza on the occasion of Mumbai Gallery Weekend. Four works or bodies of work, all based on the cyanotype technique, have been gathered here under the umbrella title of ‘Lost River’. While this appellation is more properly associated with the Saraswati, it conveys poignantly all that has gone wrong with the Ganga. Hari Katragadda studied astrophysics at IUCAA, the Inter- University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune, and photojournalism at the University of Texas, Austin. While working as a photojournalist in New Delhi, he developed a documentary practice focused on exploring the contexts and inner lives of communities. A trans- media artist, Hari works with multiple photographic techniques, drawing, painting, video and the artist book. A choreography of programme and chance plays a crucial role in his artistic process, which is strongly informed by conceptualist preoccupations with repetition, iteration and performative gesture. Hari has received the Habitat Photosphere Award (2016), the Focàs India-Scotland Award (2017), the Invisible Photographer Asia Art Award (2017) and the Alkazi Photobook Grant (2020). His photobook was shortlisted for the Aperture Foundation First Photobook Award in 2022. In 2015, Hari adopted the cyanotype technique. Based on registering images on chemically coated paper by exposing it to sunlight, it is a legacy from photography’s infancy. In Hari’s handling, it becomes a sophisticated means of recording the shift from a documentary to an abstractionist mode that is nevertheless robustly engaged with the political, and is not a turning away from it. Cyanotype prints allow the artist to bring the contaminated river directly into contact with the plate. ‘24 Foam Impressions’ is a grid of cyanotype prints, made every hour for a 24-hour period by exposing the print to the flow of the Ganga and developing it in the water of the river at the point where the Nagwa Nala, one of Varanasi’s main drains, pours into it. Disregarding the classical insistence on using only distilled water to develop cyanotypes, Hari uses the pollutant- Curated by Ranjit Hoskote heavy water of the Ganga to create cyan and turquoise images of foaming effluent, or disjecta from funerals, or dogs who survive at the fringes of the obsequies economy. Hari counts Ed Ruscha’s work, especially the book work, ‘Twenty-six Gasoline Stations’ (1963), as an inspiration for his conceptualist strategies. ‘The Shimmer’, a video installation based on ’24 Foam Impressions’, generates a portrait of the Ganga through glitch and gleam, cycle and rupture. Just as dramatically, in ‘You Can’t Step into the Same River Twice’, he uses ash or chromium sludge from the Ganga as pigment to render figures, or deploys leather strips and lengths of fish net as collage elements. The plate bears direct material witness to the tragic state of our riverine ecologies, the horrors of social discrimination and injustice, the brutal asymmetries of livelihood. Here, Hari carries forward the Art Brut tradition of Dubuffet and the Art Informel tradition of Antoni Tapies. ‘Shroud’ is an installation based on a cyanotype made with a bier, flowers, ash, bones, and water collected at the Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi on a shroud. A cosmology premised on churning chaos takes shape on Hari’s surfaces, as he demonstrates the cycles of life and death that are enacted on the river. His deliberate conjunction of the cult of purity associated with the Ganga’s rituals and the empirical fact of pollution in its waters points unerringly to a critique of caste. In these waters, either everyone is pure or no one is.