Arko Datto: Shunyo Raja (Kings of a Bereft Land)

March 20 – August  4, 2023
Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery & Jeffrey J. Hoone Gallery
Lecture: Thurs, April 6, 6:30pm
Reception: Thurs, April 6, 5-8pm

An opening reception and artist talk with Arko Datto will be held on Thursday, April 6, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. in the Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery.

Arko Datto’s epic three-part series chronicles the lives of those living in the world’s largest delta, variously known as the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna Delta. Climate change has rapidly put this immense region and its inhabitants in danger. Even as the artist summarizes the complexity and scale of the challenges confronting both, he knows his time with this landscape is fleeting.

“Rising sea levels and swelling of rivers due to increased discharge from global warming have led to the disappearance and submerging of many Sunderban islands while several more risk disappearance,” Datto writes. “The increase in salinity levels from inundations and storm surges threatens the health of the mangroves and soil and crop quality. Progressive salinization of water impacts the availability of freshwater fish species, depriving families of their main protein source while also adversely affecting livelihoods. The increased intensity of tropical cyclones and greater wind speeds further exacerbate the risk to these people.”

With three distinct photographic approaches, Datto depicts the lives and trials of a people and landscape in accelerated, sometimes violent flux. Each of his chapters—Kings Of A Bereft Land, The Final Wave, and Terra Mutata—further complicates what is no longer a typical documentary project. He starts with portraits and environments, his subjects steadily and directly facing the camera against clear daytime skies. The second chapter plunges into darkness with images surreal, manic, and unnerving— moments of frantic transition as waves surge and rain pours. In his final chapter, Datto shifts to a full spectrum and infra-red camera, the technology of military-grade night vision, bathing the delta in magenta and pink. Each chapter articulates the precarious relationship between humanity and nature, and the devastation that climate change is already visiting upon the most vulnerable.

Datto took the title for this series from a man, now an environmental refugee, who told him, “Bereft of our land and livelihood, we are all but shunyo rajas in this erstwhile land of plenty.”

About the artist:

Before stepping into the world of contemporary photography, Arko Datto was on course to receive a doctorate in theoretical sciences. Thematically Datto explores forced migration, techno-fascism, surveillance in the digital panopticon, disappearing islands, nocturnal realms, and psychosomatic stress of captive animals. His subjects vary but together they form threads of inquiry into our times’ existential dilemmas. By incorporating and developing diverse visual languages, narratives, and styles, Datto pushes both still and moving images’ boundaries. His long-term personal projects and commissions are published in TIME, National Geographic, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker among others. He received grants from the Prince Claus Fund, Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, and the IDFA Bertha Fund. Recent shows have been at SFO Museum(San Francisco), Fotomuseum Den Haag, Hamburger Bahnhof (Berlin), and Museum für Angewandte Kunst (Frankfurt). He has published three photo books: Pik-nik (Editions Le bec en l’air, 2018, FR), Mannequin (Edizioni L’artiere, 2018. IT), and Snakefire (Edizioni L’artiere, 2021, IT). He co-curated the Chennai Photo Biennale 2021 and is represented by East Wing Gallery, Doha.