x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

India's arts in view - beyond Bollywood

A series of exhibitions on India's arts seeks to get past the Bollywood stereotypes and highlight the country's culture.

Dancers perform the Mohiniyattam, a traditional South Indian dance from Kerala. India plans to present many such art forms in the UAE.
Dancers perform the Mohiniyattam, a traditional South Indian dance from Kerala. India plans to present many such art forms in the UAE.

Dubai // A series of exhibitions on India's arts will seek to get past the Bollywood stereotypes and highlight the country's high culture, its ambassador said. Talmiz Ahmed hopes that contemporary art exhibitions, a book translation project and the screening of award-winning films will bring the Emirati and Indian communities closer together and break down barriers by showing there is far more to culture than popular cinema.

"It is a matter of deep concern to me that these communities live parallel lives," he said. "The extent of engagement between them is not substantial. Art is the way to link them. We are already linked by economics, but art has a capacity to link you in ways that economics never can. It brings cultures and personalities together. "There is a feeling that at least two generations of Emiratis are not familiar with what is called the high culture of India.

"They are fully familiar with Indian popular culture through Bollywood. Every family here, without exception, is deeply familiar with our cinema. But high culture is as important in engaging with the community as popular culture. "Bollywood caters to popular taste and popular escapist culture is not to be rejected. It has its significant place, but I want to go beyond Bollywood. "I want them to know not just about our past but what is happening in India today - what are the contemporary challenges that Indians are facing today and how Indian artists are responding to these challenges and giving expression to these challenges through their work. This is with a view of re-engaging with this community."

In November, the embassy will mount a major exhibition of modern and contemporary Indian art in Abu Dhabi, with the Emirates Palace hotel the likely venue. "It will bring about 100 of the greatest modern paintings of India," Mr Ahmed said. "We will invite 15 to 20 of the artists, too, to speak about their work." The paintings were ready for shipment and everything was on schedule, he added. The embassy is translating 15 books by Indian authors into Arabic. They will be ready for the Abu Dhabi Book Fair next March.

"There are millions of Indians here and yet Arab books are not translated and neither are Indian books translated to Arabic," said Mr Ahmed. The translation project, he believes, will give both communities an opportunity to view each other more closely. Eight books have already been translated while seven others are being prepared. The sample books include fiction, non-fiction, short stories and essays.

"I am also looking to increase participation of Indian publishers at the book fair," said Mr Ahmed. A full-time culture officer is to be posted at the embassy in Abu Dhabi, which intends to initiate arts events in other emirates such as Sharjah, Ajman, Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah, all of which have significant Indian populations. Artists welcomed the events. In February, more than 30 Emirati and Indian artists displayed their work at Kaleidoscope in an exhibition organised by the Art Centre of Dubai Ladies Club. Those who took part said yesterday that they would welcome further initiatives.

"This event was quite good as we could see the work of several Indian artists who live here but we never knew about them," said Wasel Safwan, a 30-year-old Emirati artist. "We are well aware of Indians through their food, clothes and in many other ways. "However, Indians living here are attached to this country and it was interesting to see their work. "The goal of the event was clearly political. The idea was to bring cultures together and reveal the influence between Indian and Arab artists." Suhail Jashanmal, a co-organiser of the event who is also an artist, said: "The show had a lot of locals, Indian artists and amateurs who got a chance to show their work.

"Lots of people virtually unknown outside UAE and, to a certain extent, in the UAE were able to show their talent." Mr Jashanmal said he would be displaying his work again at the exhibition next year. pmenon@thenational.ae