India launches ‘Shared Histories’ festival in Johannesburg

By Fakir Hassen, IANS,

Johannesburg : Three exhibitions and a Bollywood musical performance by jazz group ‘Indian Ocean’ over the weekend marked the beginning of a six-week-long Shared Histories Festival of Arts and Culture organised by the Indian Consulate-General here that takes place in Durban and Cape Town as well.

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The exhibitions simultaneously launched at the Sandton Art Gallery are ‘Satyagraha’, an exhibition of works by young artists showing their interpretations of the life and times of Mahatma Gandhi; ‘The Indigo Story’, an exhibition of textiles highlighting India’s role in textiles and crafts as the East was being discovered by the West; and ‘Inner Voices’, award-winning photographs by former street children.

Indian High Commissioner Rajiv Bhatia explained that the exhibitions and the Shared Histories Festival as a whole was the “missing third pillar” in the special relationship between India and South Africa after they began questioning themselves about whether there was not too much emphasis on politics and business only.

“This is a rare opportunity to showcase the hidden gems from India, giving opportunities to upcoming artists, and the Shared Histories Festival has a long and bright future as long as South Africans do not tire of it,” Bhatia added.

“In discussion with curators Dr Alka Pande and Anjana Somani, we came up with the idea of commemorating the events in South Africa with a visual arts exhibition on Gandhi’s legacy of Satyagraha,” Festival Director Sanjoy Roy explained.

“The exhibitions are a reflection of young India’s perception of Satyagraha and the world we inhabit, while the Indigo Story reflects the very best in the textiles and crafts tradition as it emerged through the darkness of slavery and exploitation.

“Inner Voices is a celebration of joy by two former street children from Delhi who have been internationally recognised and are successful in their chosen careers.”

Speaking at the launch, photographer Haran Kumar, who ran away from home at 11 before being spotted and trained to become an award-winning photographer with international fame, had some advice for young South Africans: “If you have a dream, just keep hammering away at it without giving up and it will be realised in the end”.

Mani Suri, wife of the Indian Consul-General in Johannesburg, Navdeep Suri, also exhibited a painting in the Satyagraha Exhibition, titled ‘Seeking Harmony’.

“My canvas depicts Mahatma Gandhi’s iconic spinning wheel as the symbol of harmony, spinning around to reflect the constant search for this, while the static red clay pieces of the wheel above it refect the disorder and bloodshed in the world today,” Suri told IANS.

The musical ‘Bollywood Love Story’, running for a fortnight here as part of the Johannesburg Arts Alive Festival, met with mixed reaction after its premiere show.

Although the expatriate audience lapped it up, locals expressed concern that non-Indian communities were being shown only Bollywood-style Indian dances put together by French-Vietnamese choreographer Giles Chuen as being totally representative of Indian dance forms.

“Quite bluntly, we have local dance groups such as those of Smitha Singh, Jayesperi Moopen, Dr Vinod Hassel and Dr Ranjeet Lalloo that are far better,” said one leading dance enthusiast who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of victimisation of not being invited again.

“The only good thing is that we got to see a lot of good male Indian dancers on stage, which we lack here in South Africa.”

Other comments included that the costume designer was “stuck in the seventies while using songs from the 80’s and 90’s”; and “the producer seems to have had a Shah Rukh Khan fixation, as almost all the songs featured were from his films”.

Jazz group ‘Indian Ocean’ joined several local groups Sunday to entertain more than 10,000 fans who flocked to the outdoor Zoo Lake here for the annual Jazz Festival that is part of the Arts Alive programme.