Water Wars

2019-21 CAST Visiting Artist Grant

Water Wars: Episode 2, The Eternal Swamp. Illustration by Sarnath Banerjee.
Water Wars: Episode 2, The Eternal Swamp. Illustration by Sarnath Banerjee.
Water Wars: Episode 2, The Eternal Swamp. Illustration by Sarnath Banerjee.
Water Wars: Episode 2, The Eternal Swamp. Illustration by Sarnath Banerjee.

Demystifying social science through creative storytelling


Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics Abhijit Banerjee hosts Visiting Artist Sarnath Banerjee (no relation) to create a novel medium that bridges the gap between the social science discourse of academia and the loud, inchoate, but intuitive expressions of everyday life. They share a conviction that story-telling is essential to social science as a method to reexamine the key ideas—such as poverty and efficiency—used to justify policies that can have disastrous and far-reaching effects.

Growth, greed, power, and short-termism are prominent themes in Professor Banerjee’s book Poor Economics (2011) as well as Sarnath Banerjee’s graphic novel All Quiet in Vikaspuri (2015). The project emerged from the shared research interests and years of conversations between the economist and artist that traversed global issues and personal interests—from rogue politicians and humbug policymakers to the Indian middle class and their childhoods in Calcutta.

Drawing from Professor Banerjee’s research on economic development, they are working closely with the MIT community to develop a form of story-telling that brings together scholarship, theater, drawing, and sound to explore themes of water, greed, and economic growth. The story is written in the form of a multi-character soap opera centered around the academic economist addressing various water-related intrigues of South Asia.

“Water Wars” is presented as illustrated episodes, “The Land of Good Intentions” and “The Eternal Swamp”, performed by Professor Banerjee, echoing the 19th century public lectures held in London, Berlin, and Calcutta and other centers of learning. Lectures by Charles Darwin, Prafulla Chandra Ray, Acharya J.C. Bose, Mary Wollstonecraft, John Locke, Michael Faraday, and others were dramatic, often shocking, presentations of provocative scientific discoveries, playing to the theatrical culture of the time to impart a lasting impression on audiences. Professor Banerjee and Sarnath Banerjee hope to re-enchant the subject of economic growth through this form of public lecture, complemented by animation, sound, and drawings, to showcase the synergistic and creative outcomes of the collaboration between social scientists and artists.


Past Events

Lunchtime Lecture: The Role of Visual Imagination in Unravelling a Tangled World
Thursday, September 19, 2019 / 12:00pm
MIT Building E15, Room 207
20 Ames Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

Arts Scholars Roundtable
Thursday, September 19, 2019


CAST Visiting Artist Sarnath Banerjee is a visual artist, an author of graphic fiction, and a publisher. He is from Kolkata and has lived in Berlin since 2011. Banerjee’s work makes use of a surreal style, combining humor and realistic drawings with subtle caricaturing elements. He aims to tell the everyday stories of Indians in a way that emphasizes the tone rather than the factual reality of events. Though he draws upon Western modernism, his work is saturated with contemporary Indian culture, including untranslated phrases in Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali, as well as inside jokes about ethnic rivalries. He incorporates black-and-white ink sketches and photographic images drawn from Indian magazines, advertisements, and film posters for a collage-like effect.

Biography: MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology
Social: Facebook | Instagram

In 2003, Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics Abhijit Banerjee co-founded the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) with Esther Duflo and Sendhil Mullainathan, and he remains one of the Lab’s Directors. Banerjee is a fellow of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Econometric Society. He is a winner of the Infosys Prize a co-recipient of the 2019 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel for his groundbreaking work in development economics research.

Biography: MIT Economics Department


Abhijit Banerjee, Artistic Concept, Research, Text, and Presentation

Sarnath Banerjee, Artistic Concept and Drawings

Niusha Ramzani, Animation and Editing

Roanna Rahman, Cinematography

This artist residency is supported by the Abramowitz Memorial Lectureship Fund.