Arts Desk

Maximum India Festival: Not Quite India-Approved!

The Kennedy Center’s just-concluded Maximum India festival was certainly successful from an attendance standpoint, with sold-out ticketed shows and packed free events. A number of music and dance performances received rave reviews, but not everyone was completely wowed by the festival's curating—at least in India.

Outlook India's Seema Sirohi wrote an article criticizing some of the art exhibits as well as the selection of musicians and authors. Of the former, Sirohi wrote, “Some eyebrows were also raised at Kaleidoscope, [an exhibition on Indian crafts], because it was mounted on bicycles in a darkened room lit by two large video screens playing scenes of urban streets.” Apparently that’s not how some Indians want their country viewed. Sirohi quoted an unnamed Indian “official” saying,  “Bicycles and all is a western visualisation. An Indian curator would have conceived it differently. But we need to accept that and see the benefits." Adrien Gardere, a Paris-based designer, curated "Kaleidoscope" and other art exhibits.

Sirohi noticed some unhappiness regarding the inclusion of McLean, Va.-based, Indian-born singer Vatsala Mehra and Scottish-born, New Delhi-based travel writer William Dalrymple:

Some rolled their eyes at the inclusion of a self-anointed “ghazal queen” based here, thanks to a generous donation from one of her admirers. Similarly, not one but two events featuring William Dalrymple caused others to wonder if India becomes more acceptable when a non-Indian explains it.

Sirohi noted that the Kennedy Center's head of international programming, Alicia Adams, "bravely admitted Dalrymple was her 'choice,' not that of Ritu Menon, the 'literary curator.'”

In the Hindustan Times, Yashwant Raj took issue with the festival's film screenings. Raj wrote:  “Maximum India has been everything it was expected to be—a resounding success—but for its films: old art house productions, usual suspects pulled out from the stable of ponies reserved for film festivals.”

Raj quoted Adams, who said the film selection was put together with the help of actor Nandita Das.  “Once you ask an artist to curate (the show) you can’t then say I don’t want you to do this—you can’t interfere,” Adams said. The slate included only one new film, 2011’s Dhobi Ghat, along with one from the '60s, one from the '70s, two from the '80s, one from the '90s, and one from 2007.  Adams added that since “the films are old we have tried to bring over their directors to talk about their work so they (the films) are not stuck in time.” Adams has apparently not let any of these evaluations bother her—the Outlook India article indicated that she "is confident of the choices made and laughs off the criticism."

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