Dewsbury community group Manasamitra tackling environmental issues with global artists

Supriya Nagarajan, musician and artistic director of Manasamitra, in 2018. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.Supriya Nagarajan, musician and artistic director of Manasamitra, in 2018. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.
Supriya Nagarajan, musician and artistic director of Manasamitra, in 2018. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.
Inspiration to change the world can come in many forms, but the source of Supriya Nagarajan’s latest efforts to address climate breakdown can’t be too common: rats.

The renowned Carnatic singer and composer is also artistic director of Dewsbury organisation Manasamitra and has launched an international project, Terrarium, which aims to raise awareness about the impact that a surfeit or a deficit of water has on the planet.

Community groups are invited to get involved ahead of a musical event, Meltwater, at Dewsbury Town Hall on Friday, December 2.

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But it was rodent-related stories that really got Supriya thinking about the effects of too much or too little water.

“The vision is about the micro worlds we live in,” she says.

“If we think about us being in Yorkshire as being one of the micro worlds, then we are faced by flood situations, and now by drought, we have the hosepipe ban happening. We think about our garden and our farms, we are living in this micro world. So that's sort of almost our terrarium.

"But what struck me was that we don't actually look out into the world and two things happened that inspired the project.

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“One of my friends bought a property not far from the canal side and she got it at a very low price. I was asking her about the usual things: flood risk, do you think water can come in? And she was like, ‘No, I think it’s going to be fine’. So she had checked out all that, but then after about six months when I met her again, she said she hadn't moved in. I asked her why and she said it was because it was infested with rats.

" And that really struck me b ecause when I look at canal sites, they seem so idyllic and with beautiful water flowing by the side, and you look from your window and s ee the water. And yet, there was this thing that I would have never thought possible in a canal side house. So it struck me that I do live in a micro world where I don't really look beyond what I'm seeing.”

Supriya also travelled to perform at the Ultima music festival in Oslo, Norway, and was moved by an installation outside the main station, in which an artist had recorded the sounds of the city’s sewers, featuring “a whole cacophony of rats,” she says.

“She had actually captured it and converted it into a soundscape, and her take was that we have a world underneath our feet that we don't think of.

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"So if the waters actually rose, and the rats came out of the sewer into our world, we wouldn't survive but they would. So it was food for thought to me and I was like, oh, so a little bit of excess water and a little bit of water deficit creates havoc in our lives. That's where the project's gone from.”

Supriya, 55, who was raised in Mumbai but came to the UK 28 years ago, launching Manasamitra in 2005, will be writing a 60-minute composition for the show in December and has enlisted numerous artists to join her. They include Duncan Chapman, a soundscape artist and musician from Gainsborough; Satnam Galsian, a Leeds-based musician, community outreach liaison and former mentee of Supriya’s Women Composer Mentoring Project; Lucy Nolan, an award-winning harpist and creative collaborator from Derbyshire; Simon Limbrick, a marimba player who regularly performs with renowned musical quartet, Apartment House; and Karin De Fleyt, a Belgian flautist and regular collaborator of Manasamitra.

She has also established links with the Jaipur Literature Festival as well as composers Rani Jambak, from Indonesia, and Peter Iverssen, of Norway.

As well as compositions, they and others will provide sound bites for a ‘digital map’ which will be a combination of stories and songs.

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The Arts Council has granted £29,000, while libraries have given £1,000 and are making space available to the project. Terrarium is the beginning of a wider project called the Festival of Conversations and Kirklees Council has pledged £15,00 0 to last three years.

Supriya also takes inspiration from street theatre acts she saw during her early years in India, ones which explored all manner of political issues.

"I've always been influenced by that kind of small action because art has that power to capture what dialogue and discourse can't.”

Community groups can enquire at [email protected]