‘Etemananki Rises: a diptych’, neon signs and oil on aluminium installation by Sheefali Asija

With this diptych installation I am exploring the extraordinary achievements that the 21st century urban environment constitutes and the hope for our sustainable future that it represents. Etemenanki was the first ‘high rise’: a 91m high ziggurat dedicated to the Mesopotamian god Marduk in the ancient city of Babylon located in modern day Iraq. Scholars consider that Babylon was the largest city in the world c. 1770 – c. 1670 BC, and again c. 612 – c. 320 BC. The Mesopotamian civilisation was a vital cultural melting pot and its capital Babyloon perhaps the first city to reach a population of above 200,000.

A city today is a vast ‘meta-machine’ comprised of a myriad of interoperating systems that provide not only life support delivering essential ‘consumables’ for millions of people (water, food and shelter) but also facilitates a breadth of personal and social opportunities unparalleled in the history of humanity.

Furthermore, looking to the future: cities may be the key to sustainability in that they enable more efficient consumption than low density rural living. As urban living is typically characterised by a mass transportation rather than a car-dependent lifestyle, with smaller more heat-efficient homes where civic services and infrastructure can be accessed more efficiently. The high population density city represent the opportunity to permanently reduce energy use, water consumption, carbon output and many other environmental ills. The Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, reported in 2014 that for the first time in human history more than half of the world population lives in cities. And indeed the phenomenon of urbanisation has even led to reforestation in Asia and Latin America with secondary forest growing as people abandon their land and move to the cities in search of better livings.