Re-imagining recovery in the Andaman Islands
Research that gives voice to the victims of the Andaman Islands 2004 tsunami
It is common for stories of disaster to focus mainly on immediate physical losses: the number of people killed, number of homes lost, value of infrastructure damaged. However disasters have long-term and far-reaching legacies that multiply far beyond the point of impact. They multiply in space through relationships of trade, movement and the mass media, and through time by demanding a reconfiguration of the social and physical landscape, and by embedding in the memory and imagination of affected people. Geographies of impact (ie who is affected worst) tend to mirror pre-existing geographies of inequality, poverty, socio-political exclusion and infrastructural weakness. By laying these bare, disasters can also trigger critical reflection on how adequately the government is protecting its people.
Research conducted by Dr Sophie Blackburn from 2012–17 considered the local-scale political impacts of the 2004 tsunami in south India. During nine months of fieldwork in the Andaman Islands, Dr Blackburn observed a rising sense of citizen dissatisfaction with the government’s response to the disaster, which translated into an emergent culture of activism and citizen agency. Local people were increasingly aware of their rights and capacities, and expressing this through protests and participation in local non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
This project co-created a series of illustrations and a short film to capture key findings from this research and share them with the research participants. With these materials in hand, Dr Blackburn and her artist partner Radhika Gupta travelled back to the Andaman Islands in June 2018: they hosted a series of participatory story-telling workshops, in which local people had the chance to respond to the research findings and tell their stories again using the illustration cards as a prompt. The aim was to aid communication of the findings across linguistic and cultural divides, and – more importantly – to empower communities by demonstrating that their voices are heard and valued.
Dr Sophie Blackburn - Department of Liberal Arts & Department of Geography, King’s College London
Radhika Gupta - Independent researcher and lead artist