When thousands of dangerously obsessive fans cram themselves inside Siri Fort auditorium, New Delhi to watch some of the finest exponents of Korean Pop, a world entirely different from ours but one that has as much colour as any Shah Rukh Khan family blockbuster of the ’90s, we know we’re in the midst of a new world order. One where we can watch a Latin-jazz-salsa-mambo-bebop quartet rocking out at a free gig, or immerse ourselves in the virtues of obscure, experimental American cinema. Or learn a couplet, or a haiku in Hungarian.
Art enriches, but just as importantly, it allows for a special kind of showboating and posturing, in order to impress friends in high places. The capital has, over the past few years, developed a wide repertoire of different cultural movements available to casual passersby and patrons. Embassies of course exist for very specific reasons: 1) They allow their employees to use those beautiful blue “CD” number plates on their imported cars. 2) They compulsively frisk and scrutinise visa entries. 3) Diplomacy. 4) Cosmetic; they exist so that we can gawk at the stunning architecture of many of the majestic embassy buildings on Shanti Path.
That architecture provides us a nice little segue into culture, since these embassies also tend to focus a lot of their creative and financial energies on providing Indian audiences a glimpse into the rich cultural traditions of these countries. They work closely with their cultural wings — either autonomous or integrated within the setup — to not only initiate audiences to stimulating art movements that may seem alien at first, but also incorporate wide-ranging principles that include cross-cultural art exchange and interaction, blurring global borders a little further.
Guardian20 spoke to individuals operating within this spectrum at various popular embassies in the city, to understand what their modus operandi is and what drives their cultural processes.
The British Council has been in operation since 1948, always developing programmes and projects in sync with the cultural interests of the Indian audiences as well as its patrons. The core emphasis of the British Council is to connect the people the UK and India.
Four departments at the organisation — the cultural team, arts team, education & society team, and the English department — all work in tandem to conceptualise events through the year. Their Autumn Season, the last quarter of the year, is the most active phase, with multiple events held at various venues across New Delhi.
Most events that the council organises are open to the general public, but they also host events that require prior registrations, while a select few remain invitation-only. Some of the prominent events and programmes scheduled for 2015 include photo exhibitions, English courses (the winter term begins in January and the registrations will open in December) and educational counselling for anyone looking to study in the UK, and a jazz concert by the Brian Molley Quartet at the Jodhpur RIFF, 2015. There’s also a staging of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a Filter Theatre presentation, which is an interactive rock-gig version of the Shakespearian comedy, and Globe Theatre’s Hamlet, a webcast from Bengaluru which will be available online without any login details — a first for the British Council.
For more details visit www.britishcouncil.in or call them on 1800-102-4353
The United States
The American Center, a library run by the US Embassy, organises a major part of all events by the embassy. These are often educational in nature, to help students apply for studies abroad, or concentrate on educating the public on diplomacy and international relations. Seminars and discussion panels on current themes of national interest are common features at the American Center. The Center also holds a lot of screenings of Hollywood classics as well as newer films that have managed to get a buzz around them. This month, for instance, they have a session on 25 October for students who seek to learn how to write Letters of Recommendation while applying to universities abroad. On 29 October, Brooklyn-based Maya Azucena, award-winning singer, songwriter and social activist, will be visiting Delhi for the Delhi International Arts Festival to perform. Unbroken, a world war film starring Jack O’ Connell that delves into the life of Olympian Louis Zamperini who survives a plane crash to continue living on a raft for 47 days, before getting caught by the Japanese army, will be screened at the American Center on 30 October at 6 p.m. The US embassy holds sports events as well, at the American School from time to time. To mark the 70th anniversary of the United Nations in New Delhi on 24 October, the United Nations, along with the US embassy, also held the New Delhi Little League, a baseball event involving the city’s schools.
More details are available at http://newdelhi.usembassy.gov/americanlibrary.html
The Spanish Embassy in New Delhi is committed to bringing the richness and diversity of Spain to these shores, working closely with the Instituto Cervantes of New Delhi, the cultural body in India. Beyond featuring visual artists, photographers and performers at shows and events in India, the embassy also helps Indian artists collaborate with them. The embassy and Cervantes might initiate the process of collaboration. However, the relationships that get built subsequently propel a cultural exchange that grows on its own, beyond just the performance or the embassy or institute.
There are Flamenco performances, photo exhibitions and classical music events lined up for the upcoming weeks, including the Flame & Co. Mediterranean Flamenco Jazz by Antonio Serrano and Josemi Carmona at Jodhpur RIFF on 25 October, workshops in Spanish classical theatreby Natalia Menéndez, movie screenings and concert. But the embassy is only getting warmed up, with even bigger plans in store for next year, when Spain and India will complete 60 years of diplomatic relations. To celebrate that, the Spanish Embassy in India is working with the Indian Embassy in Spain to arrange shows and performances with an emphasis on cross-cultural exchange of different art movements.
For more details follow Embajada de España en India (French Embassy) and Instituto Cervantes Nueva Delhi (Cervantes Institute) Facebook pages.
“But in India we aim to consolidate what we have achieved during the last years. Our mission is two-fold: we definitely aim to promote German culture abroad, but we only do this by partnering with local institutions, artists, etc. Which means as much as it is about the promotion of German culture, it is about dialogue.”
The French Embassy in New Delhi emphasises on the collaborative nature of organising events, working with the Alliance Française, the local Indian body, to provide patrons with memorable experiences. They work across different verticals to reach out to citizens of both India and France, providing them with an opportunity to exchange ideas and collaborate on art and culture. For instance, the books division of the organisation works with publishers in India and France to translate books from French to not only English, but Indian languages such as Bengali, Tamil and Hindi as well.
The many departments within the organisation ensure that audiences get a wide-ranging experience spread across different art forms. The audio-visual department arranges events around films and TV, promoting collaborative ventures such as the filming of Tamasha, shot in Corsica, France, or Dheepan, a film about former Tamil Tigers trying to gain asylum in France.
The artistic service focuses on bringing performance artists, visual artists and photographers to India, where they get the opportunity to work on collaborative projects. One example is Ariane Mnouchkine’s Ecole Nomade: Theatre Workshop, which will have 100 theatre enthusiasts from India attend the classes after an audition for selection. The university co-operative service works towards providing students scholarships and branches like Campus France facilitate exchange programmes for students.
Their language division is also very active, ensuring a certain standard to the quality of French being taught in India. The division works with universities, training teachers and providing them with the methodology to teach a foreign language, while keeping the standard for certification in check. To add to this, the embassy also works towards facilitating collaboration between the national libraries of the countries.
For more details, go to the events calendar on www.institutfrancais.in.
The Goethe-Institut in Delhi has become the ne plus ultra of international cultural exchange over the last half a decade or so. The institute is also called the Max Mueller Bhavan, in honour of the famed German Indologist who brought Indian culture for the first time to European shores. At Delhi’s Max Mueller Bhavan, the cultural gift is now being returned. The place has become the capital’s gateway to all things German — from intensive and professional-grade language courses to exhibitions that redefine the cultural zeitgeist from Berlin to New Delhi. “The institute on the whole is constantly expanding,” said Dr Leonhard Emmerling, director, programmes, South Asia, Goethe-Institut. “But in India we aim to consolidate what we have achieved during the last years. Our mission is two-fold: we definitely aim to promote German culture abroad, but we only do this by partnering with local institutions, artists, etc. Which means as much as it is about the promotion of German culture, it is about dialogue.”
Held earlier this year, the IGNITE! Festival of Contemporary Dance — “a critically-acclaimed biennial dedicated to contemporary Indian dance” — was one such example of a broad cultural dialogue. The other more civic-minded example is the public art project hosted here back in 2011, called “Yamuna Elbe”. “It was centred on the idea of creating ecologically sustainable rivers in cities, focussing specifically on the Elbe and the Yamuna, rivers that are central to Hamburg’s and Delhi’s futures,” Dr Emmerling said. This gives one an idea of the range of activities, the variety of cultural events organised here. In the coming weeks, though, the focus is on photography. We will see the institute host a high-profile exhibition on contemporary German photography — “Young German Photographers” which opens on 31 October – as well as a collaborative show with the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi presenting the complete works of the great German photographer Sibylle Bergemann, scheduled for next month.
More details are available at http://www.goethe.de/ins/in/en/ned.html
The Korean Cultural Centre is a fairly new establishment, having opened in Delhi in December 2012, and it focusses on familiarising the Indian market to Korea’s cultural prowess. The cultural director of the Korean Cultural Centre, Kim Kum-pyoung, believes that there is a lot that India has offered to Korea in the past, and this is the right time for South Korea to return the favour. The centre has multiple events throughout the year, including film screenings, martial arts programs, fashion shows, K-Pop festivals and craft and calligraphy workshops among other things. The major events on the Korean Cultural Centre’s calendar this year include their annual two-day festival called K Festival, to be held at the Select City Mall on 28-29 November, a carnival for all things Korean. “We will have food kiosks for people who like Korean food, K Pop music, and a DJ who will play the latest Korean pop mixes at night,” said Kum-pyoung. The K Tigers, a celebrated taekwondo group, will also be flown down for a performance at the festival. The recently concluded Third Korean Pop festival that sees participation from aspiring Korean pop performers all over India has also picked up interest, and Kum-pyoung foresees growing interest in it over the years. He is hopeful that more K-Pop stars such as Psy will be visiting India for performances in the coming years. KCC, or the Korean Cultural Centre, has also got in touch with schools from across the country, and plans to hold events, film screenings, Korean language classes and animation workshops.
More details are available at http://india.korean-culture.org/welcome.do
In the popular imagination, Japan remains an industrial superpower. It’s a country that gave us bullet trains, assembly-line discipline and autonomous robots. And thanks to such techno-consumerist clichés we now associate with the country, we seldom give due regard to Japan’s lavish cultural heritage, or indeed to its ceaselessly energetic contemporary arts scene. The Japan Foundation in Delhi, founded as far back as in 1972, is not only doing the work of furthering Japan’s image as the global cultural hub here; it is also trying to alter perceptions. “Here, we’re constantly working towards our aim to present diverse aspects of Japanese culture to the locals,” said Misako Futsuki, the director of arts and cultural exchange at the Japan Foundation.
This de-facto cultural wing of the Japanese embassy in the capital routinely hosts lectures and exhibitions featuring some of the best proponents — both living and past — of what once was known in the Western world as “Japonisme” —
Japan’s aesthetic essence. This, too, is the only place in Delhi striving to keep alive memories of cinematic greats like Ozu and Kurosawa with its regular film screenings, which take place at least twice every month. “The events,” said Futsuki, “are being organised in Delhi as well as other cities in India. We have had our exhibitions that travelled to cities like Goa and Pondicherry recently.” While events are often organised at venues across the NCR, the original premises of the Japan Foundation, in Lajpat Nagar, are also worth a visit. If not for much else, then for the Manga Cafe, which boasts a 1000-strong collection of Japanese manga comics – the most recent manifestation of Japonisme. In the coming weeks, the foundation will host the Japanese film director Tsuta Tetsuichiro and photographer Naoya Hatakeyama for special public events.
More details are available at http://www.jfindia.org.in/
The Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre (also known as Balassi Institute), near the Claridges Hotel at Janpath, has promoted Hungarian culture for almost four decades now. In the last 12 months as well, the HICC has conducted a string of impressive cultural programmes, concerts, exhibitions, seminars and artistic collaborations. One of the most prominent among these was the famed Kodály String Quartet, which performed at Delhi, Pune and Mumbai. Harleen Ahluwalia, Senior PR and Marketing Officer at the Balassi Institute, said: “We’ve had 2-3 concerts at the Baha’I House of Worship (Lotus Temple), including the Kodály String Quartet. In November, we’re hosting the Haydn Baryton Trio in Delhi.” The baryton is a bowed string instrument, a favourite of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, Haydn’s patron. Ahluwalia added: “Every year, we also have events meant exclusively for children: we invite 40 students from 10 schools for an Easter egg painting workshop, for example.”
2015 has been a particularly happy year for Hungary: Hungarian author László Krasznahorkai was awarded the Man Booker International Prize in May. Krasznahorkai is the author of the novel Satantango, which was adapted into a highly acclaimed film of the same name by Bela Tarr. The HICC is bringing the celebrated author to India in January next year, when his latest translation will be released. The HICC also conducts free Hungarian-speaking classes on the premises. The auditorium hosts one Hungarian film every month: their film club has 800-odd members.
More details are available at https://www.facebook.com/profile php?id= 135719893188406&fref=ts
Indians love salsa — the dance, not the sauce (well, the sauce too, presumably, but that’s for a different day). “We know people really like salsa; [the style] in Colombia, it’s a lot of very fast movements… lots of acrobatics,” said Elena Garcia, Second Secretary in charge of Cultural Affairs at the Embassy of Colombia, New Delhi. Budget cuts this year have led to a slowdown in terms of cultural events that they’ve organised — the last one having been held in September — but the embassy has been very active over the past few years in spreading the rich cultural tradition of the country, even forgoing the traditional mode of celebrating their National Day by hosting a fancy formal do at a hotel — instead choosing to have cultural events with performances and interactions. They have been bringing dancers, traditional Colombian musicians, writers, and artists to India regularly — including the very popular music group ChocQuibTown and salsa collective La 33 — who’ve played the festival circuit across the country, as well as stints in neighbouring Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, and at venues in the capital such as the India International Centre, the India Habitat Centre, Kamani Auditorium, and Siri Fort. The vision, Garcia told us, is to present a glimpse into the cultural traditions of the country, through a mix of traditional and contemporary expressions. “People in India know very little about Colombia, so we want to start from the beginning, and present things that are identified as ‘Colombian’,” said Garcia. Further, they also promote cross-cultural interactions between artists through conferences and talks, even hosting a joint exhibition, called Ping Pong, featuring a painter each from India and Colombia interacting with each other’s works.
More details are available at www.india.embajada.gov.co