Sunday, April 27, 2014

Dance a potent soft tool of global diplomatic bonhomie- India, France show way (Culture Feature)


 New Delhi
The tracks of conventional diplomacy are changing around the world with the preeminence of soft cultural power as a potent tool of understanding across geopolitical and social divides between the nations post globalization. Music, literature, cinema, spirituality, visual arts and dance form the core of soft power that is linking nations across the world in times of Asian-Arab conflicts, rise of the Brazil (Latin American), China, India and the Africa geographical bloc  — and the shifting power and commercial balances around the world.

The focus is shifting from the traditional power turfs of US and Europe to the developing world — where India is playing a strategic role as a cultural interlocutor, interpreter, collaborator and facilitator to promote a new global understanding of amity and syncretism.

Experts say in the era of soft power diplomacy India has been a contributor to the gradual debunking of the Samuel Huntington myth of clash of civilization myth into one of connections and confluences. An ongoing dance biennale DanSe DialogueS-II — a Franco-Indian collaboration of contemporary choreographies — from April 11-29 (2014) has brought to the country seven performances by leading Indian and French performers and choreographers to tour seven cities opening and enhancing new chapters in understanding in French contemporary cultures in the context of Indian modern cultural movements. The dance biennale which had set off to a modest start in 2011 during “Bon Jour”, a extravagant festival of French culture in India to explore the areas of cultural convergence has a doorway for Indian cultural audiences to look at the contemporary arts waves sweeping through Europe and appreciate their own cultures in juxtaposition with the French haute— considered to be one of the finest in the heart of middle European seats of culture. In the last three years that the festival has expanded its footprints, performers have claimed that their encounters with the “foreign” have been enriching, endowing their performances and perspectives with new insights — and opportunities for relevant assimilation.

The French Embassy in India describes the festival as a “dedication to the people of India to promote the richness and the diversity of Indian and French contemporary dance; fostering collaboration between French and Indian professionals in this field, while popularizing the contemporary forms of expression vis-à-vis the Indian public”.

With about 80 French companies touring the world and supporting culture policies, contemporary dance in France is set apart by diversity of practices. Meanwhile in the last two decades, dancers and choreographers in India have been transforming the strongly rooted classical codes to give new meanings of expressions to the moving body.    

The fact that France and India are two very active nations in the sphere of dance is because of their ancient civilizations — the Indian classical and contemporary heritage of dance is rooted in forms that date back to the Indus Valley civilization while the French dancing legacy is grounded in the medieval cultural renaissance of the Italian, British and French courts in the 15-16th century when the ballet made its first appearance.

It is said Catherine de’ Medici of Italy who married King Henry II of France introduced ballet to French courts.  In both the countries dance moved on a trajectory of cultural and intellectual progression — with baroque (in France), the temple dances in India, court ballet (France), classical court dances in India to the mass and public performances. In the last 100 years, the cornerstone of dance has been modern— deriving and deviating from the classical roots to express a free and engaging body language an assimilating from the hip hop of the American streets and Latino hubs around the world.

One of the early socio-economic churnings in the western world that opened the body to express itself in more liberal and dramatic ways was the great depression that dug up contemporary dance talent like Martha Graham, Mary Wigman, Hanya Hom, Anna Sokolow, Jose Limon, Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor, who scripted a dance idiom with contemporary imageries and abstract expressions of human experience during the decades of 1930s-1950s and onwards. Around the same time, a group of classical dancers led by Udai Shankar, Chandralekha, Mrinalini Sarabhai and Ram Gopal and later exponents like Jayachandran, Astad Deboo and Navtej Johar to name a few experimented with mélanges of the western and Oriental styles.           
The DanSe DialoGues has been striving to keep this spirit of contemporary exchange of ideas alive.

On April 11, contemporary dance company, Compagnie Xin led by young French dancer Martin Harriague, presented “Black Pulp”—  a explosive duet choreography about the dark side of love, which is the beginning and the end of human aspirations and emotions as well causing the race to peak and ebb in throes of passion. The choreography was set to American beat poet Derrick Brown’s word composition.

Dance is overlapping with other related genres like poetry and visual arts as well – moving beyond the traditional matrix of musical scores. The performance art is jumping the cultural divides with international collaborations and influences. Dancer and choreographer Martin Harriague says “the dark space of love” in his choreography Black Pulp was inspired by a broken heart.

“I was in Holland working for a contemporary dance company which had shut shop during the global recession. My lover and co-dancer left me at a time when I was without a job. I asked myself ‘what is left’. The choreography was a conversation I had with myself and my audience on how do I stand up in a moment of crisis. In the struggle and challenge, there is a gift,” Harriague explained to this writer. The dancer moved to Israel and set up his own company.

Harriague’s choreography is symbolic of two trends: Dance is an expression of intimate and everyday reality in the 21st century, an era where the world has let go off its frills to focus on the power of the body and the soil again. “We are witnessing a post-conceptual phase in contemporary arts when dancers and performers are moving more towards the body,” Harriague said.

In France, known as the Mecca of contemporary dance and experimental body language, the traditional ballet and body dancing have been assimilating from entertainment genres like the circus, aerial dancing, acrobatics and gymnastics.

Dancer Olivia Cubero, who takes contemporary dancing from the ground to the walls on a wide techno-aerial stage spanning large facades of building, says dance cannot be confined to a closed stage. “I have been performing aerial acts since childhood,” the petite French dancer said after a “daring and a stunning aerial choreography on the walls of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts on April 23. The show, “The Immense Intimacy”, choreographed by Fabrice Guillot of the Compangnie Retouramont, is a collaboration between light, instant laser photography, aerial dancing and music. The dancer is suspended by an elastic code and two supporting strings suspended from the roof of the building. She responds to several figurative light images on the wall moving her body in the direction of the light, simulating the laser silhouettes on the swathe of the white washed wall.

The site-specific act is an exposition of choreographer Guillot’s aesthetic ideology that arts should engage with people in public spaces. The company has been experimenting with elliptical aerial dance and hip hop for the last 10 years. “I like the movements between the different genres of art,” Guillot said.

“Dance is not just dance. Our next show is more of a circus,” Olivia Cubero added.

Cubero dances in hospitals as well, where she “uses her craft with two musicians” to intervene with positive energy in the lives of terminally-ill patients. Guillot is preparing for new choreography with an anthropomorphic sculpture. “Three dancers, including one from China, will use the sculpture as the central iconic support to dance around it. In the end, the mobile sculpture will begin to dance as well making it a four-member choreography,” choreographer Guillot said. The choreographer has commissioned contemporary French sculptor Vincente Bredef to design the solid shape.  

A collaborative act between French choreographer David Rolland and Indian dancers Padmini Chettur and Preethi Athreya used hand-crafted carpets as the props for their choreography. The carpets with floral and hip-hop motifs, especially designed by the dancers, were the visual interpretation of the movements of the dancers. The group of 10 dancers recreated the design on the carpet with their body language, breaking and bending according to the patterns.

“I wanted to create more geometric forms and movements in my choreography. I used the patterns on the piece as a parable. This is the first time, I used patterns as the core of my choreography. There is no special significance. It just gave the dancers more speed and length,” choreographer David Rolland told this writer.

His likes to experiment with cross-oeuvre acts combining dance with visual arts. Contemporary dance is becoming political, Rolland said. “It is becoming more socially and politically engaged because of Libya and Arab Spring. You can create contemporary imageries of Europe and the world invoking political movements,” he said.

Dancer Preethi Athreya, who collaborated with Rolland’s choreography, says the essential difference between European and Indian contemporary dance is that the former is rooted in people’s movement. “In France, the free flowing body movement can be traced back to fall of Bastille and the French Revolution. They were turning their backs to classicism. In India, the contemporary movement is more grounded in the classical forms and in the different body languages of the pioneers who broke away from traditions to create their own classical-inspired movements,” Athreya said.        

But the borders are blurring, says Chennai-based dancer Padmini Chettur, who has collaborated with several dance companies in the last two decades. She points to two trends. “One of the trends is collaboration. But what is disturbing about collaboration is that it looks like the only way to fund a choreography of contemporary scale. If you find a collaborator, only then you can find money. We need to think about other sources to find money,” she says.

Chettur is working with her troupe to develop an indigenous pedagogy for Indian modern dance. Even the classical dance of the 1970s is modern dance because it had travelled out from the temples, Chettur said, citing an example.   

“Modern dance is all about the body. The way you use your body creates your vocabulary. It is about assimilation,” Indian contemporary dance guru Astad Deboo said, capturing the essence of global contemporary dance.

It is about cultural understanding as well.  

-Madhusree Chatterjee            

Monday, April 21, 2014

My style is a harmony of Indian classical, western contemporary dance, says guru Astad Deboo


Contemporary Indian dance is developing a cross-cultural vocabulary that spans the country as well the world beyond the physical and creative boundaries of the nation. An Indo-French dance biennale, DanSe DialogueS-III, a seven-city dance exposition featuring French and Franco-Indian choreographies from India and France (including erstwhile French colonies), has brought to the country a unique mélange of body languages and movements which grow out of the roots matrix of classical and folk genres — to depart and deconstruct as rebellious expressions of body language that conform more to popular artistic notions rather than to the grammar of the conventional. 

A collaborative performance, “Rhythm Divine” by leading Indian modern dancer Astad Deboo —trained in the kathak and kathakali dance traditions  — presented unique synergy between contemporary western dances and the Indian kathak, kathakali, Bharatnatyam (from Tamil Nadu) and the temple dance, Pung Cholom, from Manipur to prove that the diverging idioms of the old and new oeuvres can co-exist on stage without using fusion as a tool to create a relevant commercial mix.

The guru performed with his troupe of 10 Manipuri drum dancers aged between 8 and 14 years at the Kamani Theatre on April 17, 2014 suring the ongoing DanSe DialogueS series.

The guru said the choreography was based on the conviction that dance was a “system of ideas, not a method, and that, together with music, dance can enrich the moral, the material and the intellectual spheres of life, leading to a new beginning”. The collaboration was born out of Astad Deboo’s 11-year romance with Manipur, where he came across dancer Guru Seityabanji and his troupe of Pung Cholom drummers of Shri Shri Govindji Nat Sankirtan—a spiritual lineage of culture.

Deboo decided to work with them in the vocabulary of the modern dance without the drums 1but with the associated vigorous body language of the traditional drummers of Manipur from north-eastern India, who dance to the Vaishnavite deities of the “Govindji lineage”.

The nearly 1 hour-17 minute performance was an exercise in high energy of the young dancers, who skipped, somersaulted, hopped and ran around the stage simulating the motions of high-velocity drumming. The language at times displayed a tendency to assimilate from the popular Manipur martial dance form, “Thang –Ta’, but Astad Deboo insisted that "the movements were a combination of Pung Cholom, Bor Cholom and contemporary dance”. The dancers used cymbals in one sequence and the “kartal” (small drums that can be slung be around the neck) in another sequence to create additional nuances of sounds and visual imagery that invoked the cosmic power of the “big bang” and “the rhythm of divine creation” that the Pung Cholom dance is identified with.

The Pung Cholom dance is the soul of Manipuri Sankirtana music and classical dance. The dancers beat small drums known as the "pung" and move their body across the stage to the rthythm of the percussion instrument that they play. They need to be acrobatic and graceful at the same time. The Pung Cholom borrows from three genres of Manipuri dance— Thang Ta, Sarit Sarak and the Maibi Jagoi.     

The acrobatic dancers from Manipur were contrasted by guru Astad Deboo’s slow and defined body movements that took a bit from kathak and largely from kathakali to combine it with the free flowing international vernacular of contemporary dance that he mastered at the Martha Graham Dance Company in 1969 — with a stint at the Pina Bausch in 1980. The score, a deliberate medley of opera music and the vocal beats of Manupuri “taal” recited by the dancers onstage, enhanced the spirit of harmony between Indian classical heritage and its foreign counterparts that coincided rather than clashed.

Deboo, who has performed in 65 countries in over 44 years of his dancing career, told a master class on April 18 (2014) at the French Institute of Culture in New Delhi that he had developed “his own style of vocabulary based on his 16-years of training in classical dance and his subsequent training abroad”.

He taught a group of 12 novice dancers the basics of “his style”, the importance of Indian yoga and partnering in contemporary dance using the Indian classical idioms as the terra firma to carry the body forward in innovative ways.

“My body likes to express in different vocabularies because I started with kathak and then I went to study in London and then to Martha Graham. The body is the dancer’s strength. I have an Indian body and and I try to do as much I can (stretching it). I still have a strong back,” Deboo told his students — a surprisingly pleasing mix of young foreign and Indian dancers.

Over the decades, the “guru has become more internationalized”. The gush of emotions and expressions that accompanied the “abhinaya (facial theatre)” of his early days as a classical dancer has gone out of him with global experiences and encounters. “The language of the body is now more important. That has been the major influence,” Deboo said showing his students complex sets of “partnering moves” that required “human carriage, yoga, balance, physical strength and understanding between the dance partners”. “Do not let your partner down. Always make eye contact with your partner to assure that you are supporting your dancing mate,” Deboo advised. The dancer of Parsi origin, who trained under guru Prahlad Das and guru E.K. Panicker, was said to have broken away from the framework of classical tradition after a chance encounter with the Murray Louis Dance Company in UK, which set him off to explore new idioms.

Social intercations and cultural osmosis across economic and opportunity divides is central to guru Astad Deboo's cultural transmission to the posterity.  “I have been mentoring various groups of deaf children for the last 20 years to great advantage. I have trained Bharatnatyam dancers (deaf ones)  — and I have pushed myself and them in different ways. For the next 10 years, I am going to mentor different groups of both challenged and young dancers. I have also been working with street children for a almost a decade now,” the guru said.

In the last five years, the guru has set a cultural milestone by re-interpreting Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry in the contemporary dance-puppet formats with his troupe of street children from a non-profit destitutes’ home, the Salaam Balak Trust, in New Delhi. It was like crossing a cerebral divide to make the dancers understand and visualize Tagore’s poetry in dance, he had told this writer in an interview in 2012. The Tagore act spread wings since then.  
“I took my Tagore’s choreography (of three poems translated in English to a human puppet dance) to Mexico, Colombia and Spain. We have completed 35 shows. We plan to take them to Holland in July,” the 67-year-old contemporary dance guru pointed out. Deboo's Tagore choreography - which features giant moving puppets on the stage — lends a new twist to the Tagore's genre of traditional expressionism with the use of folk, mime, puppets and contemporary movements.  

The guru, who is performing in Sweden with his Manipuri troupe, said he would return to a new choreography in Manipur later this year. Deboo regretted that “contemporary dance was being interpreted in a blasphemous manner in India”. Any kind of body language was clubbed as “contemporary”.

“Not many institutions offer long-term courses in contemporary dances,” the guru said. One needs to train in classical dance forms and evolve a certain vocabulary of the body to dance in contemporary styles, he pointed out with flick of his body that was both classical and cutting edge contemporary at the same.

-Madhusree Chatterjee

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Nine final paintings of M..Husain's 'Visions of India' to go on display at V&A in London this summer


London: The final nine paintings by the celebrated Indian artist Maqbool Fida Husain (1915-2011) will go on public display at the V&A (Victoria & Albert) Museum this summer. The series known as “Indian Civilization” comprises eight monumental triptychs, each measuring 12 feet wide by six feet high, which represent Husain’s vision of the richness of Indian culture and history.

They capture India’s vibrant cities, colourful Hindu festivals, iconic figures and historic events. These imposing, large-scale artworks will be presented alongside a single painting of the Hindu god, Ganesha, which serves as the symbolic beginning of the series. Towards the end of his life — Husain, often referred to as the “Picasso of India”, battled nostalgia about his homeland, India, after his self-imposed exile in 2006. He spent his time between London and Qatar.  Sources close to Husain said the artist would recollect “his years in India through memories of sights, sounds and smells that he experienced for nearly nine decades in the country since his birth in Pandharpur in Maharashtra on September 17, 1915. The family moved to Indore in Madhya Pradesh when Husain was barely one-and-a-half years old”.

He began his career as a movie billboard painter in Mumbai to support his large family before moving to a serious pursuit of the arts — which he would often describe later as his “karmic destiny”. The barefoot painter — who stood out for his striking good looks, flowing mane and an ascetic beard — loved the bling. His distinctive style of cubist human and horses figures, bright colour palette, bold and controversial depiction of religious motifs and fascination with Bollywood  - the Mumbai movie industry and its muse Madhuri Dixit — complimented his flamboyant lifestyle. He loved fast automobiles and at the end of his life owned a fleet of 13 fashionable sports cars that included his trademark red Ferrari and Bugati. He died in London (UK) as a citizen of Qatar in July 2011.     

 Husain is regarded as one of the leaders of the modern art movement in Indian painting. Using freehand drawing and vibrant colours, he depicted Indian subject matter in the style of contemporary European art movements.
The “Indian Civilization” series, also known as the “Vision of India through Mohenjo Daro to Mahatma Gandhi”, was commissioned by the Mittal family — a business conglomerate of Indian origin — in 2008. It had never been previously displayed in a public space. Usha Mittal of the Mittal Group, has lent the paintings to V&A, where the artist attended a residency in 1990, to showcase the final works.

 Mittal said, “Spanning mythology, architecture and popular culture, the Indian Civilization Series is the final achievement of M.F. Husain, an artist whose work was continually inspired by the traditions of India. I was privileged to see this series as it was created and I am delighted that it will be shown at V&A, as a lasting tribute to Husain Sahib and his vision.”

The paintings were made in London, where Husain spent his final years immersing himself in books about Indian history, which fed into the varied themes of the paintings. Each panel explores a different theme, together creating a personal vision of India, which Husain called “a museum without walls”. Interweaving religious and symbolic iconography with historic figures and events, the paintings incorporate memories from the artist’s own life as well. The “Indian Civilization” series is a tribute to the country Husain loved, but had to leave after his life was threatened for portraying Hindu deities in the nude.

The artist’s initial intention was to paint 96 panels exploring the breadth of Indian culture; unfortunately he died before he could achieve this ambition. Husain’s handwritten notes, describing his ideas, themes and stories for each painting and explaining the scenes depicted, will be included in the exhibition guide.

A short film directed by Husain, “Through the Eyes of a Painter (1967)”, which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin film festival, will also be screened.
The 24 panels which make up the eight triptych paintings portray the following:
The Hindu Triad in which Husain depicts the Trimurti, the three principle gods of the Hindu religion. Brahma is the creator of the universe, Vishnu its protector and preserver and Shiva as its destroyer.
Three Dynasties is a triptych that celebrates three ruling dynasties from India’s long and tumultuous history. Husain places the ancient Mauryan civilization centrally between two invading rulers, the Muslim dynasty (1525-1857) and the British Raj (1858-1947).
Tale of Three Cities presents three of India’s greatest cities: Delhi represents India’s nationhood, Varanasi its spiritual centre and Kolkata its culture and activism.
Indian Dance forms capture the regional diversity of Indian dance forms, an integral part of the high culture and festival ritual. Reflecting his love of both dance and the cinema, Husain explores how movement is captured on film.
Traditional Indian festivals portray the colour and the spirit of Indian festivals Holi, Tulsi Pooja and Poorima. These ancient celebrations and rituals reflect the passing of time and show the enduring role of religion and tradition in Indian culture.
Language of Stone uses the words of the poet Rabindranath Tagore to pay tribute to India’s great sculptural heritage. ‘How the language of stone surpasses the language of man.’
Indian Households reflects the domestic lives of India’s citizens, showing the daily routines of three ordinary urban families.

Modes of Transport  presents the multiple journeys of India’s citizens as a metaphor for the journey of life. 
A single painting of Ganesha opens the exhibition. Known as the remover of obstacles, Ganesha is a patron of the arts and letters, worshipped at the beginning of any endeavour. The exhibition will be presented by the auction house Christie’s. 
-Staff Writer/London  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Kitaabnama: Books and Beyond on Indian television completes 30 episodes


New Delhi: "Kitaabnama: Books and Beyond" on Indian television completes 30 episodes  Literature as prime time entertainment is finding new audiences beyond bookshops and book reading sessions.  

The Doordarshan, India’s national broadcaster, has completed 30 episodes of “Kitaabnama: Books and Beyond” on April 13, 2014 —showing that literature commands eyeballs on the television at a time when soaps and cinema are calling the shots in the popular cultural, arts, intellectual and entertainment space. It is yet another avatar of the literature festival — a term of engagement with live literature that Indians have been reveling in across metropolitan centres and cities across the country for more than a decade. Call it the new fine print revolution in the country.            
Conceived by writer and literary activist Namita Gokhale, the programme has a participatory and inclusive format that showcases the “multilingual diversity of Indian literature”.  Addressing literary issues of contemporary interest through dialogue and conversation, “Kitaabnama: Books and Beyond” has featured discussions, readings and encounters with writers, academics, journalists, filmmakers, publishers and intellectuals showcasing the multilingual diversity of India.

The show includes speakers from the spheres of Hindi, English, and various Indian languages including Bangla, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Khasi, Rajasthani, Gujarati and Asura amongst others. It brings international names and voices as well

Founder of the capsule, Namita Gokhale said the “prime time positioning and the extraordinary outreach of the national broadcaster Doordarshan has made the programme easily accessible to viewers across the nation. “I feel it is consistently high quality of the programming, which we have scrupulously maintained through the last 30 episodes, has led to audience appreciation and loyalty for our book show,” Gokhale said.    
She said the response to the programme has been overwhelming. The awareness about literature has been growing in smaller towns — as mainstream cultural consciousness shifts from the metropolitan centres to the tier 2 and tier 3 cities because of the growing spread of education. Doordrashan still retains the widest beam-print in a country, where 40 per cent of the population lives in the villages with connectivity to probably one community television.

Official estimates suggest that Doordrashan is the most widely watched channel in heartland regions of the country.     

“Every now and then, I get enthusiastic emails and messages from across the country from book lovers, who enjoy the diversity and multilingual insights into the many languages and literatures of India. In my experience from the Jaipur literature festival, and other such events, audiences respond to the challenge of intelligent and thought provoking programming on television and outside at interactive venues,” Gokhale said.  She said to encounter the voice of the author and the insights into the creative processes is a fascinating privilege. "I have always tried to bridge the gaps in communications between literature in English and Indian languages. While I respect intellect, I don't value elitism. These things reflect in the show. Apart from that, the effort is to create a platform for diverse literary voices from India, south Asia and indeed the world,' she said.     

The show has featured a “diverse range of celebrated names like Ashok Vajpeyi, Amish Tripathi, Geetanjali Shree, Mahesh Dattani, Mahmood Farooqui, Uday Prakash, Mamta Kalia, Keki Daruwalla, Bhanu Bharati, Urvashi Butalia, Ramchandra Guha,  and Lord Meghnad Desai”.

Recalling two of the memorable shows, a spokesperson for Kitaabnama said “a conversation with writer, historian and commentator Ramachandra Guha moderated by Namita Bhandare had drawn wide response from the audience, who found Guha’s postulations on Gandhi “enlightening and educating”.         

The writer of the book, “Gandhi Before India” had addressed the “multifaceted, complex personality of Gandhi” and had tried to posit how “his book was different from the vast public documentation already available on Gandhi”.
Another interesting programme included readings by Viky Arya from her book(s) of poems  “Nomadic Dreams’and its translation ‘Banjare Khwab” and “Dhoop ke Rang”.

“Celebrating Habib Tanvir’—‘Yaadnama Habib Tanvir’ featuring Mahmood Farooqui, Javed Malick and Rupleena Bose last year had set the quality benchmark for the programme to live up to.

 -Staff Writer 

Culture shifts to New Delhi's fringe neighbourhood- prime space beyond art frat's wallets


New Delhi

The urban landscape of the national capital is witnessing a transformation around an ancient historic site — the Mehrauli Archaeological Complex — dating back to the pre-Islamic Delhi, when Delhi was ruled by the Hindu kings and later by the Muslim slaves or “mamluk” sultans of north African, Turkish and Afghan origin. Culture is flowing out from the soul of Mughal Delhi to find new homes in the “low brow” historic suburbia.

Mehrauli, located on the south-western edge of Lutyen’s Delhi (the political capital complex of New Delhi), is close to Gurgaon, one of the capital’s new satellite township in state of Haryana and the Vasant Kunj residential neighbourhood on the Delhi-Haryana border.

The complex that spreads out like a wide fan covering more than 500 acres of the Qutab Minar, the Meherauli Archeological Park and adjacent neighbourhoods, was said to have been founded by king Mihir Bhoja of the Gujjar-Pratihara dynasty. 

The name Mehrauli derives from Mihirauli or the home of the Mihir kings.The villages that once made up the old township of Mehrauli — one of the seven ancient cities of Delhi — with their heritage skyline of mosques, tombs, step-wells, community baths, landscaped gardens and smaller monuments — have made way to high-end fashion, design and art boutiques breathing new life to history. The old has moved on in sync with the time to accommodate the contemporary— and regenerate the capital’s heritage in new sustainable ways.

In the heart of this historical catharsis is the Lado Sarai Arts Village, barely 2 km from the archeological complex of Mehrauli. An ancient village ruled by a Hindu Tomar king and subsequently by an Afghan chieftain, Lado Sarai, which spills into Mehrauli’s core of cultural commerce, is home to at least 20 art galleries, design vends and artifacts stores that promote contemporary Indian arts with a global slant— drawing the world into its essential drift of Indo-Islamic historical syncretism and arts.

This kilometer-long stretch of dusty mixed-used urban heritage zone hosting old buildings, remains of historical sites, grocery and hardware stores have opened their “closed spaces” — unexplored so far — to swish art houses in whitewashes, glass and fashionable neon billboards screaming “haute art”.It is quaint at the first glance. The pockmarked asphalt road to the village —in dire need of repairs — is nothing short of suburban. Half a kilometer into the crowded bazaar like street, the landscape begins to morph. 

The display windows and shop fronts change from the humdrum “Sharma & Sons Hardware Store” to hip spaces with names like “Exhibit 320”, “Latitude 28”, “Art District XIII”, “Art Positive”, “Wonderwall”, “Studio Art”, “Art Motif”, “Must Art Gallery:, “Threshhold Art Gallery”, “Galerie Art Eterne” and “Creativity Art Gallery’, “Anant Art Gallery”, “Art Bull”, “Art Konsult” — and several more which stand like spiffy colonial cousins of the everyday businesses that crowd the approach to Ladosarai from Qutab Minar.The boutiques often strike the intrepid visitor as children turned out in their Sunday best for a party in a street that once embarrassed them.The makeover of Ladosarai dates back to 2009 when it drew its first arts entrepreneur, Mamta Singhania, who built the “Anant Art Gallery”, paving the way for a rush. 

Twenty odd spaces have opened their doors since then. Every three months, the art lane hosts a gala, Ladosarai Art Nite, preferably on a weekend, from 6 pm to 9.30 pm, when at least six of the 20 galleries open new shows simultaneously in a wine-and–cheese hopping itinerary. The idea is to celebrate the spirit of beauty, life and new business on the street that has rendered an alternative twist to history — almost like the Paris and the Madrid Art Walks that meander across museums, souks and boutique art houses. The initiative has linked tourism to arts and related business of design and fashion that thrives in the neighbouring Qutab Crescent shopping district, Qila- One Style Mile ( a style and entertainment destination) and the Ambavatta mall — in an ancient heritage site, where the mainstay has been historical tourism traditionally.

Visitors move from one gallery to another to check out the fare on offer — and in the process raise the awareness bar about art with discussions, curated viewings, criticisms and sundry conversations around aesthetics. The Art Nite — modeled on similar events in Mumbai and Bengaluru — is the brainchild of gallerist Bhavna Kakar, who manages Latitude 28, together with a handful of other gallery owners on the street.

“The presence of nearly 20 galleries on one street was raising the competition between the art houses. We got together one day and decided to start an art night — a common opening night. The street has a life of its own and we wanted to add a touch of glamour to it by setting aside a day to toast the spirit of the street,” Bhavna Kakar told this writer. The Art Nite began on a modest scale in 2011.

The common opening night has changed the environment of cut-throat competition among the gallerists to foster mutual respect— and new friendships, the gallery owner explained.On April 12, 2014, Lado Sarai hosted a special Art Nite to mark the opening of a new gallery, “Art District XIII”— an upscale display house set up by art mentor Kapil. Six of the galleries opened their spaces to draw visitors to the village; but not all the shows were new. The highlight of the Art Nite on April 12 was “Art District” which threw its door open to people with an exhibition, “Built in Translation II” by Australian artist Paul Davies. The studio gallery, however, pushed Anish Kapoor, as a bait to draw visitors to the space.The eye-catching piece that attracted several lay visitors to the new gallery was Anish Kapoor’s art work, “Absolut Anish”, a sculptural multi-dimensional installation that Kapoor has made for the Absolut Vodka brand.Gallery mentor Kapil described the space as yet another “platform” for artists to display their work. “The whole idea was to create infrastructure. This country needs more arts infrastructure because it has none to show off,” Kapil told this writer.Davies’ exhibition reflected the inclusive spirit of arts that India has been revelling in for the last decade. 

The artist, who used stencil, photographs and acrylic colours to plot contours of “plush western homes” inspired by architectural designs around the world in impressionistic imprints – that resembled photographic images — did not locate his architecture in specific geography.“My homes straddle the world. It is like translating living spaces around the globe on the canvas. Some of the homes are from Los Angeles and Paris, the swimming pools are from Palm Springs and the trees from South Africa. There are no people and no human forms. They are designed to generate their own responses with recognizable images, but are ambiguous enough to make the viewer wonder what is about to happen. It triggers a sense of mystery,” Davies explained his art.Lado Sarai's response to global art and utilisation of space found an echo in Wonderwall, the street’s lone photography salon. 

An exhibition, “Tale of Three Cities”, at Wonderwall hosted a selection of photo-essays from New York, London and Paris shot by Ajay Rajgharia, Amit Mehra, Dinesh Khanna, Leena Kejriwal, Prarthana Modi and Saadiya Kocher.“I chose photographs from these three cities (New York, London and Paris) because they are most memorable on travellers’ consciousness— in public memory. London has a different charm, New York has a different appeal and Paris is different from London and New York. But all travellers, especially people like us and those who visit art galleries, swear by these three cities when they go abroad,” Rajgharia, who manages Wonderwall, said.

“The destinations are easy to relate to,” he said. Rajgharia’s collection is priced between Rs 12,500 and Rs. 150,000. Rajgharia says the Art Nite has translated into footfall but “business comes from those on the mailing list”. “Most people drop into Lado Sarai in the evening on their way to dinner over weekends,” he said. Consequently, the viewership is not always geared to commerce or buying. A boutique row of eateries at the Qutab Enclave led by the Olive Mehrauli is a draw for the exploding tribe of gourmands in Delhi who have long discovered the joy of fine dining and savouring international fares. Art is the perfect apertif for the swish crowd that flocks to the Qutab complex for lazy dinners.      

The Lado Sarai Art Nite on April 12, 2014 was a resonance of the movements in global contemporary art, depicting the diversity of content, concepts, the wide range of material, places and cultures from which the artists assimilated. The colourful photographs at Wonderwall were in tune with Davies “international homescapes at Art District Gallery which tried to show the synergy between built and natural environments. Art Positive looked at geometry and the relevance of architectural iconography in art with “Homing”— a curated show by Deeksha Nath, which explored man’s desire to “live” in their fantasy homes. It commented on the construction, transformation and conflicts surrounding the animate living quarters inhabited by man.

“Latitude 28” connected to the international theme with “Contested Spaces II”— a daylong video screening by a cast of international artists like Claudia Joskowicz, Kartik Sood, Morgan Wong, Rodrigo Braga, Sebastian Diaz Morales and Tintin Wulia, who played with space, images and their abstract connections. “Exhibit 320” brought a group of artists from central-south Asia and Africa to interpret traditional art motifs from the heritage turfs within the purview of the contemporary in a curated exhibition, “Past Traditions”.

One of the perks of the Art Nite for the lay art lover is the presence of artists, celebrities, connoisseurs and intellectuals— in a kind of star “dekko” exercise. Curator, critic, theorist and noted poet Ranjit Hoskote observed over sips of wine and bites of “kebabs” that “events such as these (Art Nite) reinvigorated neighbourhoods”.“In a neighbourhood like Lado Sarai, it stands out as a positive signal that the art scene is back in action. It is a sign of renewed vibrancy,” Hoskote said. The curator, a native of Mumbai, said the arts quarters of South Mumbai (around the Kala Ghoda art district) with nearly 10 galleries opened together “on one Thursday a month in a ‘Long Night’” like the Art Nite at Lado Sarai.

The expensive real estate is the biggest problem that the fashion, design and the art world faces, Sunil Sethi, president of the Fashion Design Council of India and the vice-president of Li & Fung Group, told this writer.“Prices of real estate in commercial segments of Lado Sarai and Qutab Cresent – off the business pulse of Delhi’s main commercial districts  like Connaught Place, South Extension and the Khan Market  — were still affordable in comparison…This is a space where art, fashion and design are gradually coming together,” he said.

Sethi pointed to a change in the traditional landscape of Delhi. The focus was shifting from the Haus Khas village in south Delhi — once pampered as the swanky and ethnic arts souk of New Delhi in the 1980s-1990s to “the relatively back-of-beyond areas like Lado Sarai and Mehrauli because the capital was expanding beyond New Delhi. “Haus Khas is more of an eating and entertainment area now,” Sethi regretted.

“The Art District XIII Gallery (which has built as asphalt road inside the studio space for visitors to walk on) could be anywhere in the world – even in UK. How does location (Lado Sarai and UK) matter?” Sethi said.

Sethi’s “optimism” was echoed by ace fashion designer-turned art photographer JJ.Valaya, who is represented by gallerist Peter Nagi of Nature Morte Gallery. “We have been culturally more advance. This whole movement of arts to the fringe areas like Lado Sarai is wonderful. What would life be without arts?” Valaya said. The designer-photographer, who is working on a new collection of photographs— which he describes as an attempt at scaling up — will not mind displaying at Lado Sarai.Lado Sarai certainly gets its celebrity endorsement as “Delhi’s emerging arts hub”. “It is the hottest zone to watch out for,” Sunil Sethi summed up.

-Madhusree Chatterjee

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Poetry is conversation between eclectic forces, cultures and encounters for Ranjit Hoskote

India –Literature/Books

“Call it providence if the day should turn
upon its hinges, letting light colonise
this empire of jars and shutters, this room.
A telegram in the rack spells hands that burn
because you did not reply, did not realise
that some words are too proud to remind you they came.
Blue is the colour of air letters, of conquerors’ eyes.
Blue, leaking from your pen, triggers this enterprise.
Never journey far from me; and, if you must,
find towpaths, trails; follow the portents fugitives trust
to guide them out and back. And at some fork,
pause; and climbing in twilight through you may be,
somewhere, address this heart’s unease,
this heart’s unanswered wilderness”- writes young contemporary poet Ranjit Hoskote
in “Effects of Distance (for Nancy)”.
It is one of the poems that the poet recalls having cherished writing because “it was a love poem”. It is tender, poignant and delicately drawn echoing his other calling— the arts which he had been responsive to early on. Hoskote’s expertise as a curator, flair
for imagery and the knowledge of visual arts flow into his poetry in waves; painting landscapes with words that are powerful and cinematic at the same time.
“I was responsive to the visual arts and the literary arts early on…I don’t have a kind of territorial approach to arts. It is equally important that I can respond to a painting, sculpture and poem —to how time is structured in literary texts, or how you receive a brushstroke of a certain kind as a bodily experience,” Hoskote told this writer on the sidelines of the “World Poetry Festival- Sabad” (March 21-24) in the national capital.
As a child, Hoskote painted and wrote. “My parents thought that visual arts was my calling and I would go to the arts school. I wanted to do architecture, but I moved to social sciences,” Hoskote said. However, his parental dream that he would procure an arts school degree became a lifelong vocation, drawing him back to arts from “social sciences”. “Art became a part of my life,” the poet said. Art and poetry that the poet describes as two parallel streams of consciousness in

life – often spilling into each other – makes poetry, for him, a “much more visceral practice.” “To relate sensations, energies and essentially bearing witness to an encounter dealing with the visual arts — you are pushing this space of sensation— releasing into language things that can’t be put into words,” Hoskote said.
The Mumbai-based poet looks at ancient mythology through the lens of modernism— that is coloured by his journeys to numerous rare and interesting places. At the festival Hoskote presented poems from a wide vista of geography and experience — from post war artist Francis Bacon, to Bombay (Mumbai) – the city of his personal theatre —Kashmir and Sri Lanka, where he is piqued into poetic surprise by the “Giant Malabar Squirrel” at Anuradhapura. The city of Bombay is referred to as “an album of proverbs that hides the parrot with red eyes”.
Mythology for Hoskote is a corridor. “It is a detour through which I go there…Mythology and historical poems are not about mythology or historical situations. They are tools for exploring the mystery of the language, the enigmas we inherit, the consciousness that we work with even while not fully grasping its capacities. A lot of these poems that work with mythology have to do with a sense of shaping, in different cadences, the perennial experiences of quest, love, war, exile and journeying — mythology is a detour,” the poet explained — when questioned about his “affinity to mythology in poetry”. Hoskote’s anthology of the translation of Kashmiri poet Lal Ded’s poetry — an effort

of 20 years — is rooted in Hindu Saivite mythology emanating from the icy climes of Kashmir where the 14th Kashmir where 14th century Saivite mendicant lived and wrote her poetry in praise of the Lord Shiva and about the socio-religious cultural rituals that evolved around the Saivite cult— including the occult underground. The poems explore the “nuances” of the language that reflect the syncretism of Yogachara Buddhism, Hinduism and Sufism which crafted the then spiritual environs of the multi-religious Valley.
A poet, a cultural theorist and a curator, Hoskote’s poetry anthology, “Vanishing  Acts: New Selected Poems” carries his eclectic poetic sensibilities to readers. The range of poetic muses is wide, the inspirations global and the language strangely esoteric— but with a fecund creativity that sparkles with intelligent word play.Hoskote had reasons to cheer at the World Poetry Festival presented by the Sahitya
Akademi last week — his collection of poems, “I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded” won the Sahitya Akademi’s translation award for 2013. Hoskote finds nothing wrong with the breed of Anglophone poets— who inhabit the literary landscape of post-colonial India. Language does not matter so long as the exposition meets the bar.
“There is only good poetry and bad poetry, no matter what language you write in. What language you write in is your business. You can find very inspiring, illuminating poetry in a whole range of languages, including Hindi and Marathi, Gujarati and Maithili. On the other hand, the ideological opposition to Anglophone writing in India grows less and less meaningful,” Hoskote said.

The poet rejects archetypes. When asked about the influence of Tagore on his own work, he said, “Tagore is one of my heroes as an educator, thinker, anarchist and painter. As a poet, while I appreciate his work, I do not respond to it instinctively. His poetry was the product of a specific lifeworld, historical moment, and cultural preoccupations, as well as a language of images and associations that I perhaps do not share..” Hoskote said. The 45-year-old poet resonates with the “cadences of poets like Charles Simic and Dom Moraes, Keki Daruwalla and Jorie Graham”. About his mentor, Nissim Ezekiel, Hoskote says, “We never agreed on our poetics, and had lively, always cordial debates on so many issues. Nissim’s aim was ‘saral bhasa’ (simple language), so to speak. His poetic utterance partakes more of texture and everyday speech.” Hoskote’s association with Ezekiel dates back to 1986. Ezekiel was his “father’s senior in college (Wilson College in Mumbai)”. “At some point my father realized I was serious about poetry and said ‘let’s take you to Nissim and see what he has to say,” Hoskote recounted.
However, the mentoring was more of an “assimilation process” for the young Hoskote. “My concern is also to play with different kind of textures. We don’t speak one language. You make your own poems of fragments of different kinds – like a collage,” the poet explained.
Hoskote listed four among the most “creative” of Anglophone poets as his favourites — Dom Moraes, Keki Daruwalla, Arvind Mehrotra and Adil Jussawalla. The radical western voices influenced his early years – “especially Ted Hughes for a long time”, he said.
Hoskote has a new project on his board. He is translating three Sanskrit poets including Bhatrihari, Bilhana and Amaru.

“Translation is a continuous process. Entire cultures have been nourished by translations. P. Lal, the poet, editor and translator, called it transcreation, an additive and engaged process of producing an equivalent of the original in another language, with a related but distinct richness,” Hoskote said.
As a translator, the poet straddles two worlds – that of the vernacular as a hunting ground for material “much of which still is underground” and English as the medium of expression, which undergoes transformation in the act of translation. Of his 1992 translation of Vasant Dahake’s poetry, he said “Translating from the Marathi, exploring the nuances of the language, was a good way to engage with the language and linguistic culture of the region where I lived. The Sanskrit texts I am now working on mean something else to me. They embody a vigorous secular Sanskrit culture, a different kind of cultural past to the sacred-oriented, religion-overlaid visions of the past that we are taught about or enjoined to imagine. There is a vibrant body of secular tradition that is hardly known,” he said. At a recent solo exhibition of artist Atul Dodiya that Hoskote curated, “poetry in translation from Gujarati compositions” was close to the core of the curatorial exercise. The poems were co-translated by Hoskote and the Gujarati theatreperson Naushil Mehta.
Poetry for Hoskote is both a “pilgrimage and a metropolitan flaneur’s journey”- a conversation with forces that inspire him- “whichever place, time or domain they may come from, archaeology or science fiction or myth or the intensities of the city”.

-Madhusree Chatterjee