Confluence of European Water Bodies — EARLY ITERATIONS, BY MEKHALA DAVE

June 2023

Initiated as a multi-year project, the Conference of European Waters was launched in March 2023 to draw on fluid networks of active collaborations to situate rights of water bodies in European policy frameworks. As a milestone and to celebrate the Mar Menor’s legal personhood, the first iteration of the in-person gathering will be held by the Mar Menor in September 2023. By embodying the spirit of the Mar Menor in acts of physical closeness, sensorial experiences and newly deep learnings, we will navigate on how to build on collaborative efforts across various practitioners, artistic processes, watery inspirations and activist dimensions for European water bodies.


With the question of identity, hailing from the global south, water has embraced me and has offered me connections within the world that is faced by climate change, and the reality that is the opposite of abundance: scarcity and extractivism has come to deeply affect water bodies. I have many memories of facing the heat of the sun, each year, warmer and warmer. As of 2023, it is 45 degrees centigrade this year, warn my family and friends living in New Delhi, India. Air capacity and breathing lungs in fuels of smokey air. This reminder each year brings me to imagine that every one of my breaths is counted in the comparatively clean air in Vienna that is my current home and where I remain wondering, how my identity is shaping around climate change discourses between the North / South? My one source of solace in the city of Vienna is the Danube river which gives me a fresh pair of lungs to plunge into the cold and ripples of water ~ every spring, summer and fall ~ I dive deep into the Danube river. I can see the murky waters of the river that touch my body as icy fire with ink musky doses of faint smell surrounding the Danube river.

These are parallel worlds that I am alive in, between the North / South and land / water. Only in such parallel worlds do I have the ability to paint a whole picture. Living in parallel worlds means to think of worlds not as a duality but as a crochet of connectivities that run through history, space and time, marked by a colorful ray of contemplation. Even though global south history is interspersed within a European history: within the history entangled and constructed from the lens of multi plural narratives, there is no denying that climate change is universal. Yet, the degrees of climate change felt across regions vary, just as ice shapes into water, there are shifts and in such shifts, there are shifts in the ways I can be a contributor to maximize or minimize climate change.


Inspired by water and water’s fluid route, the spiritual path guided by water is empowering. In this very sense, I had the pleasure to join TBA21, an art foundation, to work as an ocean law and policy analyst guided by artistic processes. A framework for oceanic care was an entry point for me to consider wider implications of climate change on coastal communities, especially Pacific indigenous communities that I am currently very much inspired by and in (un)learning together. Pacific knowledge often reminds me of how one is deeply connected to the ocean that is thesource of all life. Pacific ways also stimulate me to think about the inherent need and support of a community. As an extension of this practice from care, I began to delve into the hallmarks of a community that is currently transpiring around care for water and as this has been my pipe dream to be part of something bigger than myself ~ to wish for a water community in this part of the world. I am navigating a growing water community through the gatherings around the Conference for European Waters for which we have had a few early online iterations so far.


If one learns the migration of salmon then one also understands how rivers and the ocean are the deep homes of salmon journeys. The journey of salmon, the canvas of birth, life and death are within the hues of riverine and oceanic homes. I see myself as a salmon having made a transboundary journey across the North/South and having care transitions between water bodies. Indigenous communities of the global south have been guardians of water and the inhabitants within it. As guardians, they have protected water in strength and solidarity, through the witness of water and water as their protector. With water as a ritualistic love act, indigenous communities have inspired legal structures to protect water in some parts of the world, namely in Ecuador, Bolivia, India, New Zealand, etc. Some may call it the rights of nature, others may defy the term, as it is rooted in colonial language that creates a dichotomy of nature as an ‘object’ but not as its own entity, free from human interpretations. Irrespective of the term, water guardians are a global gain to counter climate change ~ a global challenge. Inspired by the recent case of Mar Menor that gained legal personhood, Mar Menor is profoundly protected by the concretized rights that are shaping up in the European legal and policy context. Advocated by activists, scholars and lawyers, the Mar Menor is now enjoying a much needed success of being graced by care work. However, similar efforts are needed to ensure that just as Mar Menor, water bodies across Europe are also populated with current efforts of multiverse movements. But at the heart of it, a thriving water community. How do we, with our different ways of water love, ways of practices and collaborative modalities, come together to serve our water?


The first online iteration was inaugurated on February 14th 2023 followed by a gathering on the 18th of April 2023 and these have been some of the inklings of our discussions in our early online iterations so far among our collaborators within our growing water community. They are namely Embassy of the North Sea, TBA21, Natural Contract Lab,, ILP Mar Menor, AMARME, Pacto por el Mar Menor, Ecologistas en Acción, Earth Thrive, the Polish River Sisters and SpreeBerlin. In the last two online gatherings, each collaborator who represent the riverine waters of the Mar Menor, Venice Lagoon, the Spree, Senne river, the Tejo river, Vistula river, and respectively, the North Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, following rich discussions, that were attended by various representative activists, advocates, scholars, and artists working with the water bodies. Springing from the Mar Menor’s inspiring political movement, stories were shared by the Mar Menor’s representatives about the struggle to attain a legal personhood. These stories injected a spirit of a much needed momentum that opened up individual and collective practices and an arch of approaches around water bodies. For the first Conference of European Waters we are exploring site specific intimate dialogical crossovers, ecological (un)learnings, practices of deep listening, enclosing the Mar Menor by walking and biking, artistic interventions and a public ritual ceremony of sisterhood (a.k.a hermanamiento in Spanish).


As we are gaining insight, we are looking deep into each other’s practices toward building our efforts around the Mar Menor ~ to hold the Mar Menor in our memories is key to be touched by this water which will invite a multiverse of experiences that will shape our memories to understand better. What could we do for our water bodies that needs to keep living, thriving in their vivacious fluid masterpieces that inspire us, that operate as containers for lively routes, memories, learnings, and possible paradigm shifts to conceive a future political movement? How do we as a water community also affect our fellow companions from localized spirits and across the global south that seek relief from pollution, scorching heat, droughts, or sea tides engulfing shores of islands? Every little connection to water is linked through the maps of our co-created ideas and action plans.  Where do we begin, where do we descend?

Photo: Rivers Sisters, a Poland based collective of women activists and artists formed by artist Cecylia Malik in 2018.