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Restart Podcast Ep. 43: A life in art, activism and electronic waste with Ravi Agarwal

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Ravi Agarwal is a multifaceted artist and activist based in New Delhi. We hear Ravi’s reflections on his life between disciplines, and we learn about the work of his NGO, Toxics Link. We talk about the toxicity of e-waste and the threats it poses to people working in recycling sites.

Ravi’s activism and Toxics Link

Ravi tells us about the start of his activism when as an avid birdwatcher, he helped lead a campaign to protect the Delhi forest. Moved by his capacity to work for change, he then got interested in waste issues and eventually founded Toxics Link.

Toxics Link was a pioneer organisation researching electronic waste in India, as well as influencing the first national e-waste legislation in India. They also focus on all other kinds of waste streams, from plastics to municipal waste or biomedical waste.

Electronic waste and human health

Ravi walks us through toxic materials in e-waste. There are almost 50 of them in various ranges of toxicity. From heavy metals like lead or mercury to flame retardants. (The latter are chemicals present in plastics which protect cases from fire, however they can cause cancer when released from the case).

So when electronics are not recycled properly, these toxic components can become very threatening to human health and the environment, and particularly to workers in recycling sites in India. Ravi tells us about the associated long-term health effects that result from the exposure to these toxic materials, which can also be passed on to their children, for instance through breastfeeding.

Merging art and activism

We hear about Ravi’s solo show ‘Ecologies of Loss’ where he examines how people relate to their environment. We talk about the reception of Ravi’s work, both in India and worldwide, and we reflect on his way of balancing his art and activism.

Ravi describes himself as an artist, photographer, environmental campaigner, writer and curator. While seemingly complex, he says that all these processes inform each other – in his own words, “we all inhabit the world in many forms at the same time”.


[Featured image by Ravi Agarwal]

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