Isabeau De Rouffignac spent time at the Sambhavna Clinic, in the early part of 2018, where she began a number of imaginative and exciting photographic projects. In this series, entitled ‘Bhopal Sticks to Their Skin’ Isabeau clothed women disaster survivors in sarees printed with newspaper clippings and imagery of the disaster.
In Isabeau’s own words:
“Was it necessary to lay down in front of them these saris printed with newspaper clippings relating this ominous night of December 1984 when a deadly gas escaped from the chemical plant of Union Carbide, with medical imagery where we guess the silent ravages, with the skeleton of the factory standing like a frozen statue which reminds us that the page is not yet turned, with these views of the near-by areas, where, defying the unthinkable, families go to picnic as if nothing had happened? They unfolded them, claimed them, draped themselves in them and some looked at me and others preferred to offer their backs to me, just their silhouette like a frozen image.
“I photographed the city, the interiors of the houses where life went on because it had to, the patient care in these clinics where they try to repair what can be repaired or at least relieve the pain. I went back to what’s left of the factory. I searched the archives, found the whistle blowing letters, before Bhopal fell down, these warnings which were paid no heed, I heard cries of anger and resigned silences. I took my time.
“They accepted my idea. Have them pose in these printed saris which I have made. They accepted Bhopal sticking a little more to their skin. Some are tireless fighters. They claim compensation for the 3,500 who died the night of the disaster and for the 200,000 patients adding up over the years. They take to the streets to demand that the authorities clean up the site which continues to pollute. They are suffering too, but do not speak about it much because they have to move forward, despite the mark of time, the physical suffering, the ragged skin, the shortness of breath and exhausted eyes. Some are directly affected, others live the nightmare through their entourage interposed. Their dignity moved me. They remain women, and that is also what the coloured embroidery bordering the saris says, like a delicate mockery to the violence imposed on them and their families. I could have made them pose at home but I wanted these movements in the drapes and their gaze, strong and sweet at the same time to challenge us and stand out on these images reminding us of what was Bhopal and what this Indian city is today, whose name is forever linked to a disaster which could have been avoided.
“So yes, I had to lay down these saris in front of them. They wear them in defiance and I like them to be beautiful in this fight.”
You can see the rest of Isabeau’s work on her website
Bhopal Sticks to Their Skin chosen by ‘Viens Voir’ as one of their ‘coup de coeur’ portfolios at the Photo Folio Review Arles 2018 Viens Voir blog
Bhopal Sticks to Their Skin on the Wipplay photo site
Photos: © Isabeau De Rouffignac