Investigating a role for the arts in supporting relations of care in Rajasthan’s Traditional Water Infrastructures

Project details

Full project title: Investigating a role for the arts in supporting relations of care in Rajasthan’s Traditional Water Infrastructures 

Duration: January 2018-October 2019

Funder: Arts and Humanities Research Council 

Project Leader for SPE: Dr Michael Buser

Research partners/collaborators: 

  • Anurupa Roy (Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust)
  • Nina Sabnani (Industrial Design Centre, IIT Bombay) 
  • M S Rathore (Centre for Environment and Development Studies, Jaipur - CEDSJ)
  • Dr Loraine Leeson, University of Middlesex

Project summary

This project involved the development of an inter-disciplinary research network of environmental and social scientists, water experts and artists on the theme of care and water infrastructures in Rajasthan, India. The group explored experiences of care associated with the development and maintenance of traditional and small-scale water infrastructures. These infrastructures include technologies such as local rainwater harvesting structures (earthen dams, storage and irrigation tanks known as tanka and Talabs) and the ancient and monumental step wells of Rajasthan. By care, we refer to: 

  • the role and use of water infrastructures in social, cultural and physical well-being (as a sustaining and enriching part of life)
  • the practices of looking after and mending water infrastructures
  • the role of infrastructures as agents in care assemblages.

Our concept of care included the ways these water infrastructures addressed water scarcity; impacted social relations; and contributed to the overall flourishing of society and culture in Rajasthan. Our focus was on the ways that the arts can contribute to these processes and support their sustainability. We worked closely with NGOs and partner communities in Jhakhoda, Rajasthan.

Read more about this project

Key outputs

Key findings

The key findings from this project were:

  • the art activities successfully increased discussion and engagement on issues of water management within the specific social and cultural context of the village and region. By this, we mean that issues of groundwater, tubewells, water policy and so on began to move away from the domain of the purely technical and towards something that is part of the fabric of Jhakhoda.
  • that our projects facilitated the development of new skills and interests, including an interest in Phad painting, muralling, havelis and puppetry. 
  • the knowledge created in Jhakhoda has already moved beyond the village. At the end of the project, for example, team members presented the mural and scroll elements to the public at a meeting of the Mashi-Bandi River Basin Parliament which aimed to promote a participatory river basin model for water resource development and management. 
  • the project influenced participating artists; project painters, for example, noted how the project provided a new outlet for Phad painting and brought them into contact with critical environmental issues. As such, this form of collaborative, interdisciplinary research provided an opportunity to both support the livelihoods of artists working in significant traditional cultural forms and contribute to the expansion of these practices and their integration into contemporary social and environmental debates.

Project contact

For further information on the project, please contact Dr Michael Buser (