"Global Prosperity" is the fruit of the efforts of journalist Max Cegielski, photographer Michał Szlaga and camera operator Jakub Czerwinski. The trio's trip to Alang in the Indian state of Gujarat, whose beaches of this census town are the home of one of the largest shipping scrap yards worldwide, are a nod to the Poland's own shipping legacy...
It is estimated that over 50 thousand ships are currently floating all over the planet, most of which are simply abandoned after 25-30 years of use, renovation costs being too high. This is how a few hundred ships end up in the Asian salvage yards every year, as recycling on a larger scale is only profitable in places where manpower is cheap. After 30 years of ship dismantling, the marine salvage industry of Alang recycles approximately 15-25 millions of tons of steel, which represents almost 90 percent of all ships salvaged around the world.
As Max Cegielski explains, the choice of Alang was not only based on its history and predominant position in the ship salvage industry, but because of its short episode related with recent Polish history. Actually, at least five container ships built for India in Gdańsk in 1980 were scrapped in Alang:
They were launched when Poland was in the process of shaping its new mythology during the strikes of the Solidarity era. Through the christening of vessels with names of poets-saints, India, independent since 1947, transferred historic figures into the industrial age. Thus, the country explicitly contributed to the symbolic merging of modernity with ancient times.
In Alang we expected to see a burial ground, but instead we found a place where, accordingly to the Hindu conception of reincarnation, nothing is lost in nature, nor in the context of global economy. It is not a ship cemetery, but a place where matter is born anew. Indeed, the life of a ship reaches its end there, but other entities emerge to replace them, and energy does not disappear. On the contrary - it is used anew. Nothing is wasted, hundreds of thousands of people make a living on this industry. On the beach alone, twenty thousand workers toil during peak periods. Danger looms everywhere, a cut bow can fall off too soon, gases explode in engine rooms, objects fall down, asbestos contaminates the place; on average, one person dies there each day. Following this most difficult phase, ships are fragmented into smaller and larger parts, transported into the mainland, processed and sold. Here as well nobody has ever heard of safety regulations, but one of the workers asked if he was expected to die of hunger or of asbestos poisoning.
The main set of the exhibition is a vibrant, palpable contrast to the distant Asian reality and reminder of the situation of the marine industry in the world. In the collective conscience, the Gdańsk Shipyard exists primarily as the home of prominent strikes and a place where history was created. It is rarely thought of as a place of hard and humdrum quotidian labour. Overwhelmed by symbols, sacred dates, names and political conflicts, it has been forgotten that formal industrial activity was not the only activity shipbuilders were involved in. The shipyard was their home and many of those men's lives were exclusively rooted in the place. Their work gave them a sense of pride that they express through the consistent and spontaneous preservation of the local landscape: cranes, seagulls and vessels are objects that testify of those men's personal history too. Nowadays most ships are produced by qualified workers in China and Korea, who never heard of Occupational Safety and Health regulations, of the fixed working hours or the Solidarity movement.
Presenting the largest shipyard in the world, a place where the postulates of Solidarity have never been heard, the Global Prosperity exhibition depicts life in the surreal landscapes of Alang in India, a place of ongoing struggle for basic occupational rights and workers' dignity.
The presentation of the Gobal Prosperity project in Gdańsk includes an exhibition of selected photographic works, a slideshow and screenings of documentation filmed in Alang and a found footage video at the Wyspa Institute of Art. Also, a presentation of selected photographs is set on the premises of the Gdańsk Shipyard.
In addition to the main exhibition in Gdańsk, a one day presentation is organised in Warsaw at the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle (November 24, at 19:00), featuring a lecture by Max Cegielski and comments by Adam Mazur, a slideshow, screenings of video materials from Alang, interviews with shipbuilders from Gdańsk and found footage materials and a final debate.
The project, produced by Bęc Zmiana Foundation (www.funbec.eu), brought together three major figures of Polish journalism, photography and film. Journalist Max Cegielski: initiator of the project and curator of the exhibition - writer, radio and TV presenter, cultural animator, traveller. He is the author of books and reportages about India and other countries of the Third World (including Drunken on God, 2007; The Eye of the World. From Constantinople to Istanbul, 2009), and TV programmes. Press photographer Michał Szlaga: since 2000 he has kept record of transformations occurring on the premises of the Gdańsk Shipyard. Camera operator Jakub Czerwiński: cinematographer in feature films and documentaries, recipient of many awards.
Concept and text: Max Cegielski.
Photography: Michał Szlaga.
Video: Jakub Czerwiński.
Producer: Bęc Zmiana Foundation.
The exhibition runs between November 15-30, 2010.
The one day event in Warsaw takes place at the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle on November 24, 2010.
- Instytut Sztuki Wyspa
1 Doki Street, Apt. 145 B, 80-958 Gdańsk
Director: Aneta Szyłak
tel. (+48 58) 320 44 46
Sources: Press release, www.wyspa.art.pl