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Europe, meet India: Europalia 2013

14:52 04/10/2013
Get ready for a crash course in Indian culture at arts festival Europalia

Festivals are at the heart of people’s lives in India, and now a festival devoted to the country’s history and culture comes to the heart of Europe. By inviting India – one of the world’s oldest cultures – the multidisciplinary arts festival Europalia continues its cycle of showcasing countries with booming economies.

Following the presentation of the other so-called Bric countries, Brazil, Russia and China, there is now a chance to explore the real India during hundreds of events across Brussels and Wallonia until the end of January. Through prestigious exhibitions, spiritual music
and cutting-edge theatre, and exploring the Bollywood film industry and the delights of Indian food, Europalia’s mission is to strengthen cultural ties between India and Belgium.

The 24th edition of Europalia gives organisers and visitors alike an opportunity to explore this vibrant, colourful and contradictory society. While India is a land of diversity, the principle that influences all aspects of its society is unity. And it is the country’s culture in particular that has remained fluid and constant throughout Indian history. As the second-largest population in the world after China, India is an emerging global power with an increasing importance on the world stage. Belgium is already one of India’s most important trading partners in the EU, predominantly in the gem and jewellery business and, increasingly, the IT sector. Europalia is a cultural platform aimed at cultivating international understanding.

Reinforcing this concept, the festival’s unifying theme is Encounters. This banner brings together a series of meetings, discussions and confrontations that form the backbone
of the programme, which is centred on two exhibitions at Bozar in Brussels. Indomania highlights this theme by tracing Europe’s fascination with the subcontinent since the 16th century. Under the heading From Rembrandt to The Beatles, it illustrates the influence
Indian culture has had on a variety of European artists.

The other principal exhibition is The Body in Indian Art, which underlines the significance of the body in Indian society. It acts as a gateway to the culture of India; 250 works,  principally from India’s museums of art, revealing how the country has evolved over its 5,000-year history. In addition, the festival has seven sub-themes to guide the visitor through the depth and wealth of Indian culture: the body, Indomania, India tomorrow,
living traditions, water, Bollywood and beyond, and the diaspora.

Water, for example, is a sacred life force that retains a central position in the life and death of the Indian people, but it’s also blighted by pollution. Liège is the setting for the festival’s key contemporary exhibition, Water Art Walk, a promenade tour of photos, video and installations. They all date from the past decade but show how mythology has inspired today’s artists. It starts at the Grand Curtius Museum, on the banks of the Meuse, and incorporates the Aquarium, Ansembourg museum, Galerie Les Drapiers, Place du Marché
and La Passerelle.

While exhibitions are at the forefront of the festival, Europalia has designed a tantalising menu of Indian sounds, dance and other disciplines. Injecting his personal experience into many of these events is Alok Nandi, the Congolese-born Indian who has created a widespread multimedia design platform in Belgium. The entrepreneur delves into the
world of Tintin at the Hergé Museum in Louvain-la-Neuve. First, there’s an exhibition called Hello? Brussels? This is Gaipajama Calling!, about the comicstrip character’s adventures in the subcontinent. Then, in January, he hosts a conference called In India with Tintin. “Look how famous he is there, translated into Bengali, and yet how come Hergé didn’t cover India?” asks Nandi. “I will begin with this question and then explore other facets.”

Further literary discussions, a talk on design, ‘curry conversations’ with Michelin-starred chefs and a Pecha- Kucha evening, organised by Architempo, all show the scope of Europalia and Nandi’s horizons. His personal highlights include the Sufi musical evening at Bozar, and violinist Lakshminarayana Subramaniam performing in Flageywood, the Brussels arts centre’s homage to Bollywood.

For Nandi, the appeal of EuropaliaIndia is threefold: “Jump out of morose winter and find a place in the sun with Bollywood films and music; escape monoculture and dive into different cultures and other musical tempos; and, finally, take this unique opportunity to
look at the concept of ‘otherness’ and the eclectic palette that the culture of India

This article was first published in WAB magazine

Written by Sarah Crew