Among the hits at Serendipity Festival — Bengaluru duo’s markers whose ink is made from air pollution

Dipanita Nath
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Visitors at the ‘Air-Ink’ exhibition.

Can a pen change the world? At the Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa, Bengaluru-based Graviky Labs, displayed markers whose ink was made from carbon fuel emissions — a major cause of air pollution — and held out a promise of a clean environment.

Titled ‘Air-Ink’, it was also one of the shows that was shut down temporarily by the arts festival after visitors used the markers to write slogans against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) on white canvases covering the walls. The show was reopened on December 22, the last day of the festival, and proved to be a magnet with the visitors.

Nikhil Kaushik, co-founder of Graviky Labs, says, “Air-Ink has been a collaboration of science and art right from the start. For us, participation in art festivals has always been about introducing novel ways of addressing climate change to a larger audience in conjunction with different artists adding layers of their expressions on top of it.”

Graviky Labs was set up by Kaushik and Anirudh Sharma in 2016 with the idea of fusing technology, art and creativity to develop novel solutions to address global problems such as air pollution. Sharma was on a trip to Delhi during his post-graduation studies at the MIT Media Lab in the US when the idea hit him. “Standing on the streets of one of the most polluted cities in the world, where a passing bus’s exhaust is enough to make you change your shirt mid-day, I thought there had to be something that could be done with all that soot being released,” says Kaushik.

After several scientific experiments and research, the idea has been converted into a portfolio of industrial-grade inks and paints. “We work with several small and medium factories in north India to sequester their PM 2.5 and PM 10 pollution. The sequestered pollution is then treated and converted into inks and paints in Delhi and Mumbai,” says Kaushik. They are working on developing a capacity to manufacture up to one lakh litres of ink. “Most of the demand for Air-Ink products comes from developed economies. Air-Ink markers are exclusively sold at Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York. We love collaborating with artists across the world. More than 1000 artists having already used Air-Ink in more than 45 countries. Till date, we have shipped more than 12,000 pens,” he adds. In the pipeline are projects to bring sustainability to print, packaging and fashion industries through Air-Ink.

Curator of the exhibition at Serendipity, Sudarshan Shetty, was looking at innovations across walks of life, regions and genres when he came across Air-Ink. “We wanted all kinds of voices for the exhibition. Air-Ink looked like the beginning of something important,” says Shetty.

When the show was open, visitors used the markers through the day and covered the walls in graffiti in many handwritings. Shashank Saudagar, a visitor from Goa, balanced on a ladder as he wrote ‘Valar Morghulis’, which translates into ‘All men must die’ and is from Game of Thrones. Around him were scrawled ‘Love you for 1K years’ from the song A thousand years as well as statements such as ‘I Hate Plastic’ and ‘I Love Goa’. Political slogans ranged from ‘Azadi’ in a large font and the question, ‘If you don’t stand up today, what’ll you do when they come for you?’

Kaushik added that they appreciate and encourage novel expressions. “At Serendipity, Shetty invited people to express themselves on blank canvases using Air-Ink. Participants left their impressions on love, solidarity, climate change, and also against NRC and CAA. We stand with the festival and support the right of the participants to peacefully express their disagreement and dissent,” he says. “As long as Air-Ink is not being used to incite violence, we do not see any wisdom in shutting down the exhibition,” adds Kaushik.