Season of India at Asia Society

Dr. Zehra Jumabhoy, curator of ‘The Progressive Revolution: Modern Art for a New India’ exhibition at the Asia Society, at a reception on September 17, with a photograph in the background of the founding members of the Progressive Artists’ Group. Photo: Sujeet Rajan.

NEW YORK – The chill of fall weather is in the air, interspersed with humid, muggy weather and plenty of rain. For Indian art, culture and literature aficionados, however, it smells just like India, around the corner.

The Big Apple is awash in a plethora of big India-and-Indian-related events this week, some of which continues through the year. There is plenty to take in, and ruminate upon, for residents and tourists alike.

Asia Society in Manhattan is a focal point of a whirlwind of activities that revolve around art, music and literature. This is truly a remarkable year for the museum-cum-cultural hub, founded by John D. Rockefeller III, in 1956. For years, they have held timely panel discussions and talks on India’s political and economic scenario.

However, this year, to compound that laudable effort, they have an impressive roster of India-centric cultural events too, getting the crème de la crème of artists and writers to grace them. It should be now considered the leading center to explore India-related cultural events in America.

On display at Asia Society this week and through the year, are some of the best modern paintings ever to come out of India – read that also as paintings which fetched highest bids at auctions in recent years, and will feature some of the top literary stars the country has produced.

The Jaipur Literature Festival, which is synonymous with the tag of the biggest literary show globally as far as footfalls are concerned – at its signature event in Rajasthan, in January, comes yet again for the third time to make inroads in New York City, after it was held at the Museum of Modern Art, last year.

Focus this year, at its new venue, Asia Society, will be on politician and writer Shashi Tharoor, whose new book ‘Why I am a Hindu’ will be released at the festival, to be held on September 20.

Cover of Shashi Tharoor’s new book ‘Why I Am A Hindu’.

Tharoor’s book, according to publicity material, is a profound re-examination of Hinduism. Tharoor, arguably the most well-known Indian politician in the West, apart from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, lays out the religion’s origins and its key philosophical concepts, major texts and everyday Hindu beliefs and practices, from worship to pilgrimage to caste, in his book.

Tharoor released the book on September 18, in Dallas, Texas. Also up for grabs there was Tharoor’s recently released book, ‘Inglorious Empire’, which will also be available for sale, followed by a book signing, at the Asia Society.

The festival officially was held at Houston on September 14-15, and following its iteration in New York, will head to Colorado, for the ZEE JLF, to be held at Boulder, on September 21-23.

Shashi Tharoor

On September 20, Tharoor will be seen in conversation with noted journalist Tunku Varadarajan. Other talks will feature cardiologist and New York Times bestselling author Sandeep Jauhar; story-teller Sharad Paul will engage in ‘Medical Narratives: The Pulse of the Story’, and a highlight will be ‘Indi Sutra’, where India’s Ambassador to the US Navtej Sarna and William Dalrymple will delve into the mystery of the Kohinoor diamond. Another session will see Molly Emma Aitken and Navina Haidar in conversation with Dalrymple.

Other participating speakers at the festival include Alia Malek, Gauri Viswanathan, James Shapiro, Kanishk Tharoor (Shashi Tharoor’s son), Kayhan Irani, Martin Puchner, Namita Gokhale, Preeti Taneja, Ross Perlin, and Ruchira Gupta.

Zila Khan

The festival will also feature the noted Sufi singer Zila Khan, who will start off the proceedings in the afternoon of September 20, with her mellifluous renderings, which have captivated audiences all over India.

Khan is no stranger to the US, having performed in the past at numerous venues here, including the Kennedy Center and the Lincoln Center. Daughter of legendary sitarist Ustad Vilayat Khan, she has acted too, in the Bollywood film ‘Bajirao Mastani.’

Apart from the Jaipur Literature Festival, the Asia Society is also featuring an impressive, and comprehensive art show, ‘The Progressive Revolution: Modern Art for a New India’, through January 20, 2019.

At a reception and unveiling of the exhibition, on September 17, the curator, Dr. Zehra Jumabhoy, Associate Lecturer, at The Courtauld Institute of Art, in London, gave a widely appreciated talk on the relevance of modernism in India, and how it stood up to the Western contemporaries and masters.

The collection, which Indian American art collector and entrepreneur Kent Charugundla – who has one of the most extensive collections of modern Indian art, termed as “excellent”, at the reception, comprises of more than 80 works by members of the Progressive Artists’ Group, which formed in Bombay, in the aftermath of independence.

F. N. Souza’s ‘Crucifixion’.

The exhibition comprises some of the most well-known works from the group’s core founders – K. H. Ara, S. K. Bakre, H. A. Gade, M. F. Husain, S. H. Raza, and F. N. Souza – as well as later members and those closely affiliated with the movement: V. S. Gaitonde, Krishen Khanna, Ram Kumar, Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee, and Mohan Samant.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)



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