Events & exhibitions

Water Stories: River Goddesses, Ancestral Rites, and Climate Crisis

Water Stories: Triveni Sangam, Allahabad (Prayagraj), India, Jan 3, 2023. Digital Image by Jinah Kim and Cara Buzzell.

The impact of climate change is felt and measured most intimately through our experience of water, whether that be drought, flooding, or access to safe drinking water. It is no wonder that the climate crisis is also called a water crisis. That crisis disproportionately affects economically disadvantaged areas of the globe, especially the former colonies of Western imperial powers in the Global South. Despite countless news reports on climate disasters in the Global South where all of the top ten deadliest natural disasters of 2022 occurred, it is difficult to grasp fully the effects of climate change when the crisis hits communities outside one’s own.

Water Stories: River Goddesses, Ancestral Rites, and Climate Crisis presents artworks that tell alternative stories of water experience. They treat water not as a commodity to be exploited but as a cyclical, life-giving, life-dissolving, and inert but innately alive spiritual force—a view widely shared among Indigenous communities, especially in the Global South. The exhibition juxtaposes older, traditional paintings depicting myths with works by contemporary artists that evoke various aesthetic experiences of water in the age of climate crisis. Water Stories encourages viewers to appreciate the multivalent meaning of water and to contemplate their own relationship with it.

Viewed through the lens of climate change, stories about a celestial river that saves the ancestors of an ancient sage resonate with the reverence and respect sorely needed to recalibrate humans’ relationship with the environment. Drawn from the collections of the Harvard Art Museums and the Peabody Essex Museum, and featuring works by three contemporary artists, the exhibition illuminates the cultural, religious, and political significance of water while drawing attention to the legacy of colonial rule and imperialism to be found in the climate crisis.

Participating artists include Atul Bhalla (b. 1964, New Delhi, India), Alia Farid (b. 1985, Kuwait), Evelyn Rydz (b. 1979, Miami, Florida), M.F. Husain (b. 1915, Pandharpur, India–d. 2011, London, United Kingdom), and artists once known in South Asia.

See companion website for the exhibition.

Organized by Jinah Kim, Johnson-Kulukundis Family Faculty Director of the Arts, Harvard Radcliffe Institute; George P. Bickford Professor of Indian and South Asian Art and professor of South Asian studies, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Harvard Radcliffe Institute gratefully acknowledges the Johnson-Kulukundis Family Endowment Fund for the Arts, which is supporting this exhibition.


Free and open to the public.

We encourage visitors to reserve a time for their visit to guarantee access.

To place a request for a group or class tour of the exhibition, please submit this form at least two weeks before the date of your desired visit. We will do our best to fulfill each request, but occasionally due to scheduling or staffing constraints, some requests cannot be accommodated.

More Events & Exhibitions

01 / 08