Poulomi Basu’s latest iteration of Centralia is a sci-fi short that imagines a post-apocalyptic future

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Ghost Dance, a collaboration with filmmaker CJ Clarke, premiers as part of this year’s Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize

A fiery red sun pivots and burns against the black void of outer space. “They told us that the world was going to end one day, but no one imagined it would end like this,” says the narrator as Poulomi Basu and CJ Clarke’s sci-fi short, Ghost Dance, begins. The digitised voice belongs to a woman from the future: the last survivor of a global disaster, speaking “as a final act of survival,” as Basu explains. Spanning desolate rocky landscapes, fiery scenes of destruction, and real footage of conflict, the film proceeds to imagine a post-apocalyptic world: a warning of where humanity could be heading.

The 15-minute short premiered last week at The Photographers’ Gallery, as part of the 2021 Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize exhibition, featuring work by this year’s four nominees: Basu, Alejandro Cartagena, Cao Fei and Zineb Sedira. It is the latest addition to Basu’s lauded long-term documentary project and photobook, Centralia, published in 2020 by Dewi Lewis. The project blends fact and fiction to uncover the violent, largely unreported conflict between the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) and the Indian state. 

Centralia: Ghost Dance (2021) by Poulomi Basu and CJ Clarke © Poulomi Basu. Courtesy of the artist.
Centralia: Ghost Dance (2021) by Poulomi Basu and CJ Clarke © Poulomi Basu. Courtesy of the artist.

For Ghost Dance, “the idea was to use the science fiction trope to tell a story about a very real global ecocide, but also to put the work in a larger global context,” Basu explains. Around 70 per cent of the film is original video, shot by Basu and filmmaker CJ Clarke in India. The remaining footage is archival or found, shot in Brazil, Australia, and California; some was contributed by the guerilla fighters themselves. The question of the role of a woman as the last survivor, and the hardships experienced by women in times of conflict and disaster, underlies the work.

“It puts the conflict in a larger perspective and says, this is where humanity is headed,” says Basu. The film is otherworldly, apocalyptic and dark, but “this is where we are now,” she says, frankly. “This is where we are heading if we don’t protect the world.”

Read more about Centralia in an interview with Poulomi Basu from 2019, here.

Poulomi Basu is currently exhibiting Ghost Dance: Centralia, and images from her series, Centralia, at The Photographers’ Gallery, as part of Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2021, until 26 September 2021.

Marigold Warner

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.