Gerry Judah’s sculptural works, from a series entitled Bengal, are the result of a commission specifically for Tipping Point in association with international development agency Christian Aid. This marks the second occasion that Wolverhampton has commissioned an artist in association with Christian Aid, the first being the 2007 exhibition Children in Conflict. For this exhibition, painter John Keane visited Angola following the civil war to record the impact on children and young people in the area.
The sculptures in Tipping Point are inspired by a research trip to West Bengal and Jharkhand undertaken by the artist and members of the Christian Aid team in 2012. Judah was born and raised in Kolkatta, which allowed him to reflect on issues of identity, displacement and loss. His relief paintings are renowned for dealing with the impact of war and disaster on the urban landscape. Whilst architectural features (flats, communication and water towers) are recognisable, it is unclear what or where these structures and places are and what has caused them to be destroyed, scorched, washed away or abandoned. The canvases are often bleached white, further removing any sign of life or identifying characteristics.
These intricate, fragile and colourful works reflect the beauty of India amongst its degradation. Not simply motivated to produce reportage, Judah aims to capture the ‘subtle poetry’ of the situation facing the people there. He reports being struck by the extent to which everyday objects, even those unfit for purpose, are reappropriated and recycled. For Judah, this was a mark of ‘how people are trying very hard to help themselves to come out of this struggle, not to just go and rally and complain, but getting on with it… trying very hard to not just better their lives under the most adverse conditions, but also to stay together as a community.’
The temples, pylons and monuments to progress that Judah has constructed are remade from coal and ash – symbols of industry in a now developed country, one widely regarded as a key economic force. However the media portrayal of a country in ascendance does not tally with Judah’s experiences: “It seems to me that there are people in India getting richer and richer and there are people in India getting poorer and poorer. And it’s those who are really more affected by climate change. And it seems to me that climate change has had such an impact on people that they’re trying to patch up whatever they could to just deal with it.”
The final words must go to Malcolm Gladwell: ‘In the end, Tipping Points are a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action. Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push – in just the right place – it can be tipped.’
The questions are when, and the direction in which we do this.