Author Archives: Debesh Banerjee

BBC Arts Hour: How tolerant is Indian Culture of new ideas?

Depending on how you look at it, India is either a deeply divided place where new ideas are constantly held back, or a land brimming with energy and new, diverse voices befitting the world’s biggest democracy.

A panel of artists and commentators came together at the British Council in New Delhi on 17 September, to talk about the boundaries of acceptability of India’s art, books and culture. Is India at a cultural crossroads and how tolerant is it of new ideas?

The BBC Arts Hour panellists at the recording session of The Arts Hour

The BBC Arts Hour panellists at the recording session of The Arts Hour

On the one hand are cases like the exile of legendary artist M. F. Husain, who was driven away after certain of his artworks were forbidden from being exhibited. Senior journalist and columnist Swapan Dasgupta highlighted the contradiction in the fact that painter Raja Ravi Varma was celebrated for his portraits of voluptuous women as goddesses, while Husain was vilified.

BBC arts hour

Senior journalist and Columnist Swapan Dasgupta (left) and NGMA Director, Rajeev Lochan

His image of the naked goddess Saraswati was seen as offensive towards Hindus and led not only to legal action, but also resulted in his home being attacked by right-wing activists.
At the same time, there is a proliferation of new and diverse voices, as writer and journalist Raghu Karnad pointed out. They are difficult to track since India comprises so many languages, he explained, but there is a new explosion of writing by the Dalits. He cited the example of a Kannada lesbian romance film that wholly embraces the idea of two women in a relationship.

Click Here: Listen to the recording of BBC, The Arts Hour:

Although there have been recent cases of conservative reaction to, for instance, the film PK, Karnad said that there has never been a shortage of people in India whose sensibilities have been offended. Such offence should not, therefore, be assumed to be a phenomenon of our times alone.

Artist Sonia Khurana and theatre activist Shilpi Marwaha expressed their desire for women to be liberated from the shackles of tradition. Khurana said that her depictions of naked women were rejected by Indian galleries only to be received well abroad. They were finally shown after that at Delhi’s National Gallery of Modern Art, on the insistence of fellow panellist, NGMA Director Rajeev Lochan.

BBC arts hour 2

The audience listening to The Arts Hour

Against the backdrop of the famous “Delhi rape case”, an incident involving the tragic rape and fatal assault on 23-year-old Jyoti Singh Pandey, there is a heightened level of awareness about the treatment of women in society.

The incident, which sparked intense international coverage and mass protest in India, inevitably reared its head during the panel discussion. According to Shilpi Marwah the way people react to women has transformed as a result of the publicity around the case.

A sensational slam poet and rapper, Rene Sharanya Verma, lyrically captured the moment with her debut performance of the powerful piece Reclaim the Night, which was a call for women to be able to embrace the streets after dark.

She says her work aims to empower women and raise awareness of misogyny in India. The discussion ended on the subject of digital media’s capability to empower huge numbers of people. The proliferation of mobile phones is encouraging and enabling art to be consumed and shared more easily. On the flip side, this can mean more opinions are expressed which leaves art in India open to more criticism.

The jury is divided as to how open Indian culture is to new ideas. A live performance by the two-member electro-fusion band ‘Basanti aur Woh’, fusing Led Zeppelin rock with Sanskrit lyrics certainly left our live audience feeling optimistic about the chances for diverse, fresh ideas to flourish.

Post by: PRIYA KHANCHANDANI
The writer is the Head of Arts Programmes for the British Council in India

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Aisling Fahey: Long Night of LiteratureS

UK performance poet Aisling Fahey who is also the Young Poet Laureate for London, is in India for a session of readings as part of the Long Night of LiteratureS literary event this month. She will also be travelling to three cities: Chandigarh, Guwahati and Pune for readings. She shares how she was drawn into poetry in this blog:

  • Can you tell us about how you got into poetry

Having always loved reading and writing stories, when I got involved in a poetry project at school, the London Teenage Poetry Slam, at 13, there wasn’t any looking back. That vibrant introduction to poetry showed me the power carefully crafted words can have. They are a way to interrogate, understand and record. When you experience the impact poetry can have, and feel the atmosphere of a live event where somebody is holding the whole room with their words, you cannot help but become addicted to the art form. At 15 I joined Barbican Young Poets, a programme run by Jacob Sam-La Rose. This provided a regular space to learn about, read and write poetry, along with opportunities for publishing and performing. Still now, I use the community of writers established in various projects I’ve been a part of over the years, in order to push me, inspire me and keep me motivated.

Aisling Fahey

Aisling Fahey at a session from the Barbican Junior Poets in June this year ©Susana Sanroman

  • How did you become Young Poet Laureate of London? What has your role entailed?

There is a relatively lengthy application process for Young Poet Laureate for London. It involved initial applications, a long-listing day where you perform for a panel of esteemed judges, then a residential week for the shortlisted six filled with workshops, before a final interview. Last year, it was Lemn Sissay who announced the result on National Poetry Day in October. The role has entailed interaction with various communities and groups in London, from five to six year olds in my old primary school, to sixty year old women from Ireland, where my family is from. It has involved performances, events, workshops, panels, talks, and what has underpinned all of this is an engagement with poetry and people. I hope that I have successfully shown some of what poetry can do, and how it fits snugly into so many different environments.

 

Aisling Fahey © Leonie Morse

Aisling Fahey © Leonie Morse

  • What are you looking forward to about your trip to India with the British Council?

I’m looking forward to discovering, learning and immersing myself as much as I can in a way only travel allows. I am also interested to see how my work, with its influences and references, will be received by new audiences. How will the sharing of my work in such a different place transcend any cultural differences that may be present? The literature that I love most is that which may be very far from my scope of experience, but still manages to speak directly to me. It will be really interesting to see if my work manages to do this in any way.

Also, the Long Night of LiteratureS event taking place in Delhi on 25 September will be incredible. That event brings together artists from across Europe and India, I’m always excited to talk to artists from different places and learn from their practice and experience. Most of all I’m looking forward to letting all of the new people and experiences soak in, I’ll be collecting stories that I can bring back home to savour, and retell as winter settles in an attempt to conjure back some of the heat.

 

 

Extract from Cab Rides At Dawn

 

In the place where dawn breaks continuously,

I am relearning the properties of light.

I used to go hunting for stars on my aunt’s farm,

come back with them between my teeth

like the flesh of an exotic fruit.

We dont have these in the city, I’d say,

swallowing them until they settled in my belly,

before exploding, making me shine outward.

I confess more to strangers than to friends.

 

I am discussing Poetry and God in a cab
with a driver from Bulgaria.

If I recorded my conversations with cab drivers

I think I’d be closer to my dreams.

I always ask them where is home 

as they drive me to a place that is meant to be mine.

 

 

Extract from Foreign Bodies

When a stranger pronounces my name right

I want to cut our ears off,

dig for other sounds we share.

 

There are names I cannot pronounce.
Each time, my tongue becomes a guilty weight,
I score a tally on my thigh
of all the countries I have not been to.

We love what is foreign
because it reminds us of ourselves.

 

III.

My face is my parents’ homeland,

sometimes they look at it and cry

for all the things they’ve lost,

their lost things crawl under my skin,
look, there is the river we never did swim in,
I don’t know which one of them spots it,
the vein at my temple,
but by the time they turn around
the other one has long gone.

Entombed in my face is what they built together,
when they were in the business
of making love and lives
in foreign lands.

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World Voice Project: Master Trainer workshop in Delhi

The Master Trainer workshop held in August 2015 was a wonderful opportunity to re-connect with World Voice colleagues from our Himalayan partner states and welcoming back our dear WVP Artistic Director, Richard Frostick.

world voice delhi

Shubhangi Tewari, WVP trainer, conducting a session with participants

 

 

Having Richard amongst us, infuses us with loads of inspiration, new techniques as well as, ideas for the forthcoming WVP year. I re-call attending my first WVP workshop in March 2013. Watching Richard interact with school children and help them to find their singing voices was truly heart-warming. The positivity, love and ease with which he communicated with the students, has stayed with me and continues to inspire my own practice as a WVP trainer.

During the recent Master Trainer Workshop, I had an opportunity to share experiences from the World Voice Manchester residency program, which I had attended. Here I met WVP leaders and master trainers from across the world! We marvelled at the authenticity with which British Primary School children sang in languages from countries as diverse as Argentina, Chile, Brazil, the UK, Senegal, Ethiopia, Jordan, Palestine, Nepal and India at the residency finale concert in Manchester University.

world voice project Delhi

WVP workshop participants in New Delhi

It is the third year for WVP in India, and the state master trainers’ shared their incredible work with school children in Himachal, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Jammu, Delhi and the NCR. It was indeed wonderful to receive feedback from teachers that ever since they started singing in the classroom on a regular basis; the students were happier, smiled a lot more, were more energetic, alert, getting better at remembering facts or concepts and attended school more regularly!

On a personal note, singing is the most significant part of my life. I experience the happiness it provides on a daily basis. To be able to extend this joy to young people is the most valuable aspect of working with the World Voice Project.

Post by: Shubhangi Tewari, WVP Trainer 

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World Voice Project: Singing and drama in NDMC Navyug classroom

 

The third workshop for the New Delhi Municipal Corporation and Navyug teachers was held from 26 August – 28 August, 2015 at the NDMC Convention Centre, New Delhi. The workshop introduced the World Voice Project (W.V.P.) and the Drama in Classroom Project (D.C.P.) to a new batch of 30 teachers. In addition to being a top-up training for eight teachers who had attended previous WVP workshops (held on 1 October – 4 October, 2013 and 10 February – 12 February, 2015).

NDMC workshop

The NDMC workshop in progress

The workshop presented ‘music’ and ‘drama’ as additional tools to promote wider curriculum learning. The participants learnt new warm-ups, songs, drama/song teaching techniques, lesson-planning and ways of integrating WVP/ DCP with the curriculum. The discussions and interactive sessions were particularly interesting as participants (including, primary school subject teachers, music teachers, art teachers and special education teachers) raised thought-provoking questions that highlighted the relevance and effectiveness of an art integrated teaching pedagogy. While the session with 30 students from class five demonstrated ways of introducing WVP and DCP in classrooms and was appreciated very much.

School children at the NDMC workshop in New Delhi

School children at the NDMC workshop in New Delhi

It was heartening to hear the students sing Daw Hyfryd Fis (a WVP Welsh song) which was learnt in less than 10 minutes and curriculum linkages were established through it. The workshop concluded with the participants showing an eagerness to apply the newly acquired skills in their classrooms.

 

 

Voices from the Workshop:

Megh Malti: As an art teacher, WVP and DCP could be used to establish a friendly rapport with students and encourage them to think freely as well as, ‘creatively’..…. She felt she had learnt a lot during the  workshop and could use it to make her  subject (drawing) even more interesting!

Pooja: As a physical education teacher, WVP singing games could be used to engage more effectively with students. In sports or any other physical sport, quick reaction time….played a crucial role in determining the quality of the player and WVP warm-ups as well as, singing games could be used to facilitate this…. Besides, during her arrangement / substitution classes, she could use DCP to teach EVS and other subjects too! …..

Astha: ”Classes 6 – 10 were taught Senwa (song from Congo) in 2013 and they remembered it even in 2015! (earlier trained participant).”

Deepti Tyagi: ”She felt fusing arts with academics helped establish a good rapport with students. The entire class became joyful and meaningful.…….(earlier trained participant).”

Rajesh Singh Negi: ”‘Zaruri nahi hai ki aap apne bacchon ko tansen banaaein….bachoon ko kaansen banaein’…. and WVP helped in the endeavour ! [Translation : It is not necessary for us to make the students into Tansen (*a prominent Hindustani musician and singer), instead make them specialists in listening and relating better……. which could be achieved through WVP] (earlier trained participant).”

 

Post by: Shivaa Rawat                                                                                                                        

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Jocelyn Allen: Self portraits

 

The British Council India and ‪‎The Alkazi Foundation‬ have come together for a photo project titled ‪PHOTOUKINDIA – Origins that looks at works drawn from the shared history of both countries.

The exhibition of the curated entries will open as part of the PHOTOUKINDIA exhibition on October 14 at the Gallery in the British Council, in New Delhi.

Over the coming weeks, we will feature a new artist, their history with, and approach to photography. British photographer Jocelyn Allen looks closely at her work  in taking self-portraits.

Jocelyn Allen

Jocelyn Allen

I’ve always taken self-portraits since I got into photography, but never did a proper project as on my BA I tried to make my projects non-personal until the last project where I decided to make the work that I really wanted to make. I didn’t plan to use myself originally but it seemed to make sense as I would be always be available and I had been taking self-portraits because I felt inspired but no one was around/I didn’t want to bother people. I didn’t plan to make another self-portrait project but I found it to be therapeutic, especially in terms of dealing with how I felt about myself and my body. 

I am trying to find inspiration in anything and everything. I’m going through all of the books on my bookshelf and researching a lot online. Generally though, I just get inspired by going on Instagram and other platforms like Tumblr and Twitter, as well as exhibitions and talking to friends and seeing them doing well with their work. I also went on holiday last month so I was inspired by the new surroundings and the nature.

Jocelyn Allen (b. 1988, UK) has a BA in Photographic Art from the University of Wales, Newport (2010) and an MA in Photography from the London College of Communication (2014). Highlights of her career so far include representing the UK in a Biennial of Young Artists of Europe & The Mediterranean (2011), showing her work at Guernsey Photography Festival (2011), self-publishing a book (2013) and being selected for FreshFaced+WildEyed at The Photographers’ Gallery, London (2015).

Follow her Instagram feed @jocelynfreya

 

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Alan Knox: Shifting political landscapes and its impact

The British Council India and ‪‎The Alkazi Foundation‬ have come together for a photo project titled ‪PHOTOUKINDIA – Origins, to curate works drawn from the shared history of both countries. 

The exhibition of the curated entries will be held on October 14 at the British Council India in New Delhi.

We’re very excited to finally announce the participants for the first chapter of PHOTOUKINDIA. Over the coming weeks, we will feature a new artist, their history with, and approach to photography. In these two works, British photographer Alan Knox looks at the idea of the political landscape and the evolving personal space:

The Debatable Lands

Marshall Meadows Bay on the Anglo Scots border, Northumberland, UK © Alan Knox

“Having been born and raised in Lanarkshire outside the city of Glasgow, my early interest in photography as an art-form was shaped by attending weekend classes at the Glasgow School of Art. During this time, I was exposed to the electrifying transformation taking place within the Glasgow contemporary art scene during the 1990’s, inspiring my practice for years to come.

During the past year my work has explored documentary practices by questioning shifting political sovereignty and it’s effect on the natural landscape.  With The Debatable Land, I travelled the Anglo-Scots border with the intention of documenting the b-roads and dirt-paths that criss-cross the border, And presenting them as conduits between past and present.

My companion project, Schengland explores the role of internet imagery in documenting the transformation of border controls across the European project by appropriating Google Street View images from the eastern Schengen border and installing them on the Anglo-Scots border.”

Man in the Moon

Large format black and white negative held to the light of a full Moon © Alan Knox

In the past year my practice has moved from the political to the personal. For Man in the Moon, producing large format black and white negatives from the family archive, held to the sky so to be backlit with the full Moon’s reflection, the faces of my ancestors filter the motion of the lunar orbit, which is traced as I re-photograph the negative at regular intervals.

My practice thus seeks to reflect on the lost aura of the work of art caused by mechanical reproduction, as Margaret Iversen writes: “To experience the aura of the phenomenon means to invest it with the ability to look at us in return. It implies, then, an ethical attentiveness and receptivity to the other.” In my practice, one may become receptive to the loss of the other by investing the lunar satellite with the ability to gaze back at the viewer through the mediation of photography, tracing the timeline of my Grandfather’s life.

Follow his Instagram feed @alanknoxphotography

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Thereby hangs a tale

We never stop telling stories, do we, small and tall alike?

Once upon a time I went to Scotland. There, in a castle in the dark, misty highlands, actually a modest hotel in Edinburgh, I found my flesh creep as I walked down its sinister corridor. We’d had dinner with Jock McArthur only the previous night, and the next morning he’d been found with his throat slit. The chill finger of suspicion pointed at all of us. Oh, all right, there’s a wee bit a yarn-tellin’ here. We were part of a ‘murder weekend’, then still a new tourism lure. ‘Silly gimmick’ i’d thought to myself when i was invited to it, but we were all unwittingly drawn into the plot by the wicked witches, aka the professional players pretending to be guests like us.

Literature delegation in Edinburgh

Bachi Karkaria (centre) with the other delegates at Edinburgh. Image courtesy Momentum/Festivals Edinburgh

Once upon last week, i was once more in Edinburgh, again at the heart of storytelling as actors and artists, clowns, kings and queens of all sexes created the fairy-tale world of the Festival’s ‘Fringe’. Like all good stories, theirs made us laugh, cry — and think. A bunch of us litfest organisers had wound our way from Kolkata, Kuala Lumpur, Bogota, Bucharest, Budapest, Bali, Lahore and Mumbai to a gypsy caravan called Momentum Literature, hitched for four days to the International Book Festival.

Every night, we gathered in a baroque tent for Jura Unbound. ‘Jura’ was the sponsor, the fairy godmother needed by all real-life events. Professional storytellers ‘unbound’ the tales of Hans Christian Andersen or the Brothers Grimm and recast them for the here and now, which has its own rags-to-riches stories — and certainly no dearth of ugly ducklings swanning around.

So, did the golden coaches turn into pumpkins during the day? No! We continued to be bewitched by the luminous passages read by authors from their new books. Skilful moderators drew out the writer’s own stories of wandering through dusty, musty archives, finding the Aladdin’s lamp of inspiration, and the magic kiss of publishers who don’t easily fit the description of ‘Prince Charming’.

Very grim and no fairy tale were the Amnesty International panels dedicated to writers and journalists killed for their courage. Not everyone lives happily ever after, but the story must be told.

Post written by: Bachi KarkariaCourtesy: The Times of India.

(The writer was part of the Momentum Edinburgh Festivals International Delegate Programme, delivered by the British Council in partnership with Festivals Edinburgh and Creative Scotland in August, and participated in the Edinburgh International Book Festival and other events.)

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World Voice Project: Manchester residency programme for trainers

WVP trainer Shubhangi Tewari looks back at her residency programme in Manchester

The week-long Manchester Residency programme, brought together master trainers from nine countries with World Voice UK trainers and vocal leaders from the Greater Manchester Music Education Hub (GMMEH). Each of the overseas master trainers’ worked in a ‘celebration school’ chosen from nine boroughs of Greater Manchester — Bolton, Bury, Rochdale, Tameside, Wigan, Stockport, Oldham, Trafford and Salford.

World Voice Project residency

World Voice Project residency programme in Manchester

I worked in the borough of Stockport with students from Cale Green Primary school, whom I taught a song in the pahadi language spoken in Himachal Pradesh, India. The students also learnt about some Indian musical instruments and some features of north Indian classical music. There were also one-off workshops in other schools in Stockport — Mersey Vale, Prospect Vale and Back Lane Primary schools.

WVP trainer, Shubhangi Tewari

WVP trainer, Shubhangi Tewari

The World Voice Project aims to promote learning through song. By learning a song from a different culture and using it as a springboard into the learning of various aspects of that culture and country made learning much more joyful. One could tell by the twinkle in the students’ eyes and the complete focus with which they learnt the song, asked questions and also by their impeccable behaviour.

I also had the opportunity to observe some activities carried out by the Stockport Music Service — like observing a Guitar Wider opportunities session in progress and also attending a squad performance by children at St. Joseph’s Primary School. It was a privilege to be invited to performances by the GMMEH brass band and “It’s a Musical World” event at the Macron stadium in Bolton, where many schools from the borough of Bolton participated in and presented music from cultures as diverse such as the Carribean, Colombian, native American and South African, among others.

On the final day of the residency, we had performances through the day at the University of Manchester, with students from every celebration school from the Greater Manchester region, performing the songs they learnt from India, Jordan, Palestine, Senegal, Nepal, Ethiopia, Chile, Brazil and Argentina. They even sung local songs and a number specially written for the World Voice Project called Starlight.

World Voice workshop in Manchester

World Voice workshop in Manchester

It was incredible to watch so many young children from the UK sing in different languages — Pahadi, Amharic, Wolof, Arabic, Spanish and Nepali, which they had picked up within a matter of four sessions. The experience was and deeply moving, re-iterating for all to see, the immense power of music and song in cutting across barriers of language, culture and all other markers of difference and creating sheer joy, a positive inquisitiveness into lives’ and cultures’ different from one’s own and a sense of remarkable achievement.

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