Sunday, September 10, 2017
Some twenty years ago - in what now seems a more innocent, humane, compassionate time - I spent several months in the Southern Indian city of Bangalore, directing THE TEMPEST for Mahesh Dattani's Playpen company. It was a life-changing experience for me, leading to the creation of Border Crossings as a company committed to intercultural work; and I believe it was also an important production for the cultural environment in which it took place. One of the great pleasures of that time was to be surrounded by an extraordinary group of creative, committed and questioning young Indians - actors, writers, artists, film-makers and journalists. Young people who cared about what was happening in the world, who understood the historical forces that had shaped and were shaping their country, who longed for justice and who believed they could make a difference. For a short time, I felt as if I was one of them - and that sense of hope has remained with me ever since. From time to time I have seen or exchanged emails with many of them. I still do. We have all retained some sense of the young people we once were and have clung to the dreams we once dreamed.
Central to that inspiring group of people was the journalist Gauri Lankesh, who was murdered last week. The three men who shot her as she arrived home from work have not been traced, and there is no definite proof of who they may have been - but those who knew her well are convinced that her death must have been related to her fierce and honest journalism; and to her activist stance against the power of Hindu nationalism, against the racist ideology of the BJP and its vigilante offshoots, in support of equal rights for the Dalits and the Muslims. Mari Marcel Thekaekara's Guardian piece deals with the politics very well. The Hindu right has been given free rein to enact its own idea of justice, and Narendra Modi preserves an ominous, acquiescent silence. In what claims to be the world's largest democracy, mob rule is permitted. Have we any idea of just how dangerous our world is becoming? We stand on the edge of an abyss.
I remember Gauri as a young woman - energetic, attractive, full of wicked humour. She liked to be in the thick of controversy: the piece she wrote about me in the magazine SUNDAY responded to the way that THE TEMPEST had divided opinion so deeply, with some people embracing its Indian setting and the post-colonial resonances, while others steadfastly refused the connections. It wasn't a pre-publicity piece: Gauri sought me out after she had seen the piece, precisely because she wanted to engage with the anger it had provoked from conservative voices. I don't think any of us realised that this cultural controversy was symptomatic of something so much more dangerous, so much more vindictive, something that would become so bloody and so tragic.
Gauri was killed because she dared to speak the truth, and her death makes it all the more incumbent on the survivors to continue that moral quest. The voice of justice must not be silenced. It must not.
Friday, June 23, 2017
At the same time, the Festival's presence might have helped build some bridges and heal some wounds. It may, of course, be too soon - we should probably be content to wait for 2019 before we return to the area, at which time we can work with the community to do something affirmative. There were many who felt the Ariana Grande commemorative concert in Manchester came too soon after the event - and that was in a place where the community had been united by the tragedy. In North Kensington, there is great anger.
For all that - there is a genuine role for Festivals in healing wounds and building bridges. On Monday, Marcia Langton talked about this aspect of indigenous festivals in Australia as part of her ORIGINS Lecture - and last week we saw it in action at our REMEMBERING POCAHONTAS event at Syon House. The visit of Pocahontas to the London home of the Percy family was a full 400 years ago, of course, and was a diplomatic mission, not a catastrophic inferno. But the arrival of three Native American women to commemorate a Native American woman was still a highly significant moment, precisely because they have been so shut out from history. As Graham Harvey said at our AFTERNOON OF TALKS, the Pocahontas 400 events so far have concentrated not on where she lived but where she died, not on her indigenous but her Christian identity. A ceremony of smudge, drum and dance felt like a redressing of the balance, an invitation to bring previously excluded voices to the centre.
I hope we will be able to go back to North Kensington soon, and to offer a contribution to that community's healing.
|Sierra Tasi Baker, Gabe Hughes, Stephanie Pratt|
Monday, June 05, 2017
|Sierra Tasi Baker|
|Prof. Marcia Langton|
|The 7 Stages of Grieving|
|The New World|
How wonderful to meet such an extraordinary group of modern indigenous women!
Wednesday, May 31, 2017
|Are We Stronger Than Winston?|
This is the time when, more than ever, we need to be listening to the voices of indigenous people, who experience climate change at the front line on a daily basis. Not only do they feel its effects particularly acutely - they also have long cultural traditions of living in close harmony with nature. In indigenous cultures, you do not own the land but care for it - passing it on as a healthy inheritance to the future. Now, more than ever, we need to be engaging with indigenous people as we try to find a way forward in our relationship with a damaged planet.
|Reports from Standing Rock|
|Are We Stronger than Winston?|
|Melissa Veszi as Poluknalai|
Thursday, May 25, 2017
|Three Wise Cousins|
|Man of the Andes|
ORIGINS is a great place to be young....
Thursday, May 18, 2017
|The New World|
At the heart of these ideas sits the contested figure of Pocahontas. 2017 is the 400th anniversary of her time in England and untimely death at Gravesend, aged only 21. Celebrations can be complex: and this anniversary hasn't been without its controversy. Writing in Indian Country Today, Lisa J. Ellwood attacks the way in which the commemorations have seemed to appropriate Pocahontas (or Matoaka, as she was properly known) as a "Great and Powerful English Feminist". Ellwood cites the alternative oral traditions of the Powhatan, which we also explored in our HIDDEN HISTORIES film. According to this tradition, Pocahontas was abducted, raped and eventually murdered: a very different tale. [You can see HIDDEN HISTORIES as part of our REMEMBERING POCAHONTAS event at Syon House on June 15, or in a pre-festival screening at Bernie Grant Arts Centre in Tottenham on May 27] Our friend Graham Harvey (part of our TALKS programme) wrote a blog piece on the commemoration at Gravesend, which also problematises it in the light of colonial histories and post-colonial tensions. As a Festival celebrating indigenous culture, ORIGINS can't enter this territory without an overt awareness of its being contested space. So our REMEMBERING POCAHONTAS night will be a Native American ritual, not a Christian one, at a site where she lived, not where she died. It will involve contemporary Native American women who have travelled to England locating their own stories in relation to hers - or what hers might have been. And the film we are screening about her, THE NEW WORLD, is an attempt to move beyond contested histories and into the realm of the mythological - the imaginative space where the real potential for healing can be found.
|Observance by Julie Gough|
of the Arctic landscape and undercutting its construction of the Inuit as primitive "Others". In many ways, this performance is an answer to the colonial writings of history that have continually dogged indigenous peoples - an issue also presented at our other NMM screening, PASSAGE, which sees the slandering of the Inuit by Victorian moralists like Charles Dickens, and the beginnings of reconciliation in the present day. That whole history of mis-representation, leading to self-representation on film is traced in the wonderful (and very funny) documentary REEL INJUN, and countered by the re-invention of indigenous language itself in Christian Thompson's video installation BERCEUSE.
|Spirit of the Ancestors|
Sunday, May 07, 2017
|Intercultural Laboratory - participants from UK, Romania and Greece|
The symposium was characterised by a tone of resignation. Even David Lan, whose speech struck a more powerful moral tone than most, didn't dare to suggest that Brexit could possibly be resisted. What seemed to me most striking and most disturbing about the day was the sense that Britain really was different from the rest of Europe, and that the difference consisted of a more mercenary approach, even to culture. Mark Ball talked about British participants in the international theatre circuit being more transactional in their approach than Europeans (or anybody else, except Americans). Christopher Balme, who has always had a global view of such things, looked at the UK's gradual policy shift away from an integral to an instrumental view of the value of culture; and suggested that the corresponding move in European cultural policy, from Culture 2000's belief in the inherent worth of intercultural dialogue to Creative Europe's emphasis on culture as a means to economic and social regeneration, was a reflection of British influence. So at least we managed to mess Europe up before leaving it....
I retain a few little strands of hope as to what may happen in the negotiating process. If, as seems virtually certain, Theresa May is re-elected with an enhanced majority, she will take that same transactional, indeed confrontational approach to the negotiation. Her recent run-in with Jean-Claude Juncker shows just how alien this is to the European approach to policy: on the continent there is far less adversarial politics, far more consensus and coalition building. The thought that the Brexit talks might be about "the best deal we can get" is itself anathema to the Commission. The British government cares not a jot for culture or education - the most recent instructions from the DCMS to the Arts Council suggest that the latter should be transformed into a business development agency, a bit like UKTI. But culture and education do still matter to the European Union, and they value the contributions that British educators, researchers and (yes) artists can make to their projects. It may just be that the EU manages to salvage our involvement in the programmes as a trade-off for some concession on tariffs or the like. I'm inclined to direct the lobbying efforts towards Brussels rather than Westminster.
Turbulent times produce good art, though - and, fully aware of the irony, I can report that this Laboratory was the best we have done. At our Evaluation session, and since, participants spoke about the freedom they had found in our approach, the way the workshop had enabled them to follow their creativity and emotional paths, to overcome fear, to re-frame their own roles as artists or educators. One young man from Romania, who may or may not have known that he was arguing the case for Europe, said: "It made me feel how travelling and communicating can help you grow... If you put people together, it's better for everyone".
Simple really, isn't it?