(published for a special event organised in Brussels in May 2013)
“Container vessels and oil tankers are the largest movable objects ever created by mankind. Their design and operation is proof of the technical excellence of modern man. At the same time, shipping is the most eco-friendly mode to transport goods in a globalised world. In the 21st century, the environmental impact of shipping ranks high on the agenda: environmentally friendly fuels and the reduction of emissions, the prohibition of hazardous construction materials and strict regulations against maritime pollution. This makes it even more surprising that most large sea-faring vessels still end up on beaches in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan at the end of their life, where they are broken down by unskilled and even barefooted workers under conditions that can hardly be called progressive.
Today, “shipbreakers” are still crushed by falling steel plates, children risk their lives in the yards, hazardous wastes such as asbestos, POPs (persistent organic pollutants) or heavy metals are not properly taken care of, and residues from the scrap ships pollute sensitive coastal areas. Archaic in appearance, the images of tiny workers walking on the mudflats with silhouettes of huge pieces of scrap behind them have inspired numerous artists to further explore the subject. We have the pleasure of introducing two of them in our exhibition “Chittagong Blues – The shipbreakers”: the German sculptress Nele Ströbel and the French photographer Pierre Torset.
The disturbing aesthetics of the shipbreaking yards confronts us with the contradictions of our economic system in which prosperity and growth meet exploitation, cost externalisation and the application of double standards: on the one hand, the accumulation of wealth by those who benefit from ships and their demolition, both in the global North and South. On the other hand, the weak excuse of the lack of means to pay for respiratory protection against asbestos fibers, access to emergency equipment or drinking water supply for workers.”