Who are we?
Established in 2017, Living Waters Museum is a virtual museum which engages youth in visualizing water heritage and re-imagining sustainable, inclusive and equitable water futures. Through the power of storytelling and technology we seek to celebrate our water wisdom, inspire youth to look at water from an interdisciplinary perspective and co-build a digital repository as a source of learning for the future. We are based at the Centre for Water Research at Indian Institute of Science Education and Research IISER- Pune.and are a founding member of the Global Network of Water Museums, endorsed by UNESCO’s International Hydrology Program in 2018.
Why ‘Living Waters’
Water, the primal fluid, has shaped rich civilizations across the Indian sub-continent, inspired art and architecture, stories and folklore, rituals and practices, poems, songs, music, film and dance. Our mighty rivers, such as the Ganga, Indus, and Brahmaputra have been at the heart of economic growth, trade and transport for centuries, while our oceans have seen conquest, exploration and maritime expansion. However, population growth, unsustainable patterns of development and the growing risks posed by climate change are threatening our water security. As glaciers retreat, rivers get dammed, springs dry-up and groundwater is over-exploited, we need new ways of sharing our water wisdom and shaping sustainable water futures for all. The term ‘living waters’ reflects the diversity, dynamism and continuity of this vital resource, the elixir of life.
Why a Virtual Museum
The word museum is typically associated with the preservation of the past, conjuring up images of old relics, stuff and dusty spaces which your parents insisted you visit. Today however, museums have begun to re-define themselves as interactive and live spaces through the use of digital tools to engage youth and children. Museums, like water, are not necessarily bound by walls or physical structures. A virtual museum allows us to ‘democratize’ our water heritage across time and space, reaching out to youth and children, especially from marginalized communities, or the elderly, neo-literates and the physically challenged. It provides us an opportunity to curate content beyond borders and boundaries, linguistic, cultural or geographical, and create new forms of collaborative ownership.
We collaborate with a range of young people from civil society, schools, academia and the creative arts to design and curate digital content and communicate on our diverse water challenges. Ideas for new content often come from our collaborators, as part of their graduation projects (e.g. with NID) or other institutional requirements, or our sometimes driven by an open call for contributions (e.g. exhibition on Women, Water and Work). We believe that young minds have the strength and resources to bring significant change to conventional approaches to water management and address our complex water challenges. Our partnership agreements are tailored according to the institution or individual we are partnering with and all content copyrights are non-commercial and shared equally.
Additionally, since we are based in Ahmedabad, a UNESCO World Heritage City, we have gone beyond the digital world to engage with local communities, citizens and youth through public events around water heritage (e.g. Stepwells or Sarkhej Roza) or pop-up exhibitions on water, food and culture (e.g. with Vishalla) or storytelling and musical events like ‘Jal Tarang’. We believe that this engagement is critical as it allows us to hear different voices and share their concerns for an inclusive and sustainable future through diverse media such as community radio (Radio Nazariya).
With a PhD from the University of Cambridge, Sara Ahmed has more than 30 years of experience in the water sector as an academic, an activist and a policy advocate on issues of water governance, gender and social equity. Through her work in India, the region and globally, Sara realized that our water practice does not reflect our rich water wisdom or values and that there was a disconnect from the world of art or the oral traditions of storytelling as a means of communication on our growing water challenges. So began the idea of a water ‘museum’, traversing from physical to virtual space as a more dynamic medium for visualizing narratives on water heritage that can flow like water, and like water, adopt different ‘forms’.
Over the past three years, our youth have harnessed the power of music, songs, film, photography, prose and poetry to tell their water story and re-imagine a more secure water future. As we look ahead, we would like Living Waters Museum to be a digital hub for the development of local water museums that can reflect our diverse waterscapes through community engagement and participatory practice to address our water challenges. In so doing, we hope that we can re-invent the idea of a museum as an agent of social and behavioral change, and in the process, generate opportunities for eco-tourism and sustainable livelihoods around water.