By Maryam Qarehgozlou

Air pollution from a different viewpoint: ‘Cars need clean air’

January 27, 2018 - 9:51

Air pollution is a knotty problem of the metropolises of Iran. Currently seeing the azure sky is a dream that seldom comes true.

The governments sure have the biggest part in addressing the air pollution, but the public should also do their part, however small, to help the current situation. 

Among the public, celebrities and artist can have a more instrumental role in attracting public attention to what they can do to mitigate such environmental challenges to some extent. 

Masoud Nikdel, 37, is a designer, sculptor, and lecturer who is primarily concerned with the environment and voices his concerns with his radical performances.

Nikdel resolutely tries to make people aware of the environmental damages people are causing either intentionally or unintentionally. The “crisis experience” is one of his most remembered performances in 2015. In an attempt to show his concerns over water crisis, sympathize with the Earth and caution the public against what is happening to it Nikdel covered himself in mud and sat motionless on the stairways of Milad Tower, Tehran, for three straight hours.

“Out of sight but alongside” was performed in January 2016. He tied some trash, mostly empty bottles, to himself using ropes and dragged them while walking on the streets of the capital intending to warn people how the trash we produce does not vanish off the face of the earth but merely hides in the landfill and finally drags down our poor and helpless environment.

In another performance he gave in the same year called “my city is my clothes” while walking in the streets he gradually filled his white clothes, covered with a plastic layer, with cigarette butts thrown away on the street to convey a message to the people: “What I’m wearing is a part of my city. My city is my clothes.”

His last but one performance, what he himself calls “not brutal, but foolish”, was staged at a breakwater in Anzali lagoon, northern Iran, in September 2017. He said that the performance was intended to make people aware of the adverse effects of throwing out trash in the environment.

“As an artist I’m fond of the environment and I praise it, and I’m of the belief that a beautiful and enjoyable life is only possible when we live in harmony and in accordance with the universe, and there is no way around it, but unfortunately many people are threatening and damaging the environment for their short term gains,” Nikdel lamented. 

An artist is duty bound to voice his concerns and the truth about such damages regardless of any personal gains, as an artist I’m responsible to prod the public into action once in a while and remind them of what they are doing to the environment, he added.

‘Cars need clean air’

“Cars need clean air” is Nikdel’s most recent performance or as he himself calls it a “happening”. A happening is a performance, event, or situation meant to be considered art, usually as a performance art.

The performance is simply focusing on clean air but from a different angle, said the Iranian artist and environmentalist about his recent performance.

Nikdel said that the performance was given in Azadi Square, western Tehran, next to the Azadi Tower which is somehow the symbol of Tehran and where many cars pass during the day. The performance was put on January 13, also marking the 45th anniversary of the Azadi Tower opening in 1972 and some days before national clean air day on January 19. 

“We have previously contacted the traffic police to make arrangement in order to avoid any chaos,” he said. “We have also used domestically produced air filters which are not very eco-friendly to also garner attention of the substandard auto industry,” he noted. 

“Some 350 drivers pulled over and replaced their air filters themselves; while changing their used, filthy filters. We could see how disgusted they drivers were with the amount of dirt on the filters. While I was looking at them I was wondering if they knew that the dirt that has clogged the air filter was the outcome of what they do to the environment.”

After changing the filter the drivers were given a sapling to plant in order to abate air pollution, he added. 

The performance was funded by #the_only_one_earth campaign established by a finance credit institution with environmental concerns. The campaign is launched by the institution in association with environmentalists as well as artists and do not seek any financial benefits, he noted.   

Please do care about the air you breathe 

“I always try to study about the roots of a problem before staging a performance,” Nikdel highlighted. “Vehicles are the main sources of air pollution and they are very much like human beings in that they breathe, they eat [gas], they burn calories [burn gas to move], and they require maintenance.”

“We always provide the vehicle with maintenance and we feel responsible for them but we sacrifice our health for it, so I used this analogy as a basis for my performance,” he added.

In this performance the main audience were car drivers, Nikdel said, adding, people who buy cars for their convenience, they constantly tune up their vehicles, they change the engine oil, replace the oil filter, the air filter, the fuel filter, etc. 

Such people and their cars are the main sources of the air pollution in the metropolises, but they forget about one important thing, Nikdel explained. “They keep replacing air filter in their cars to provide them with clean air and to function better and each time they replace it they see how dirty the old one is which is caused by the pollutants in the air.”

“But they don’t see one thing, they are providing a vehicle with clean air which is itself a source of air pollution,” he regretted, stating, “they know that their cars need clean air but they don’t care about themselves, they forget about their own needs, they look for standard filter for their cars but do they look for clean air for themselves?”

“I’m a member of this society and I’m not any different from the others, what I want to say is that if we just think about our actions, the way we treat the environment and the consequences of our actions we would certainly be able to solve a great deal of the environmental challenges we are facing,” Nikdel concluded.  


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