The exhibition focuses on world-renowned Indian photographer Raghu Rai’s pictures following the Bhopal Gas Disaster on 2–3 December 1984. Rai was the first photographer to capture images of the devastation caused by an explosion and gas leak in the Union Carbide chemical plant, located in one of the poorest parts of the city.
Half a million people were exposed to the gas and 25,000 have died to date as a result. Hundreds of thousands have also experienced chronic health problems and disabilities in the decades following the explosion. The American corporation – which is now a subsidiary of Dow Chemical – has never accepted full responsibility for the disaster, and has evaded justice in the Indian courts. As we reach the 30th anniversary of the disaster, the site of the abandoned factory has still not been cleaned up, and the groundwater supply in Bhopal remains poisoned.
Rai’s photography draws attention to the emotional, physical, and political fallout of this catastrophe, and the struggles of people to resume life in a toxic environment. It also poses some of the questions that our wider programme of events explores. How long does a disaster last for? How do communities recover from long-term environmental damage? And what might be done to support survivors, campaign for justice, and prevent future disasters?