Tuesday, June 30, 2009

b'tselem's palestinian video camera project wins one world media special award

a settler caught on video beating a Palestinian farmer (picture courtesy of B'Tselem)

Award-winning project enables Palestinians to ‘shoot back’ – with camcorders
by Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette June 29 2009

An innovative project that provides Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza with video cameras and trains them to record Israeli human rights abuses won the Special Award for the Israeli human rights charity B’Tselem, at the One World Media awards ceremony in London last week.

B’Tselem launched the Camera Distribution Project in January 2007, and so far, some 100 video cameras have been distributed. The project facilitates “citizen journalism” at its most raw and vital. Palestinians armed with camcorders have shot a gruesome catalogue of videos, which have been uploaded by B’Tselem’s website, circulated to TV channels and news agencies, and posted on YouTube.

Dozens of examples of violence by settlers and soldiers, and of the harsh realities of daily life, have been recorded. In one video, masked settlers armed with sticks beat a Palestinian shepherd and his wife in Khirbet Susiya. Hebron has been a particular focus for Israeli violence and abuse: the examples include a settler firing from short range and wounding Palestinians, a female settler repeatedly yelling abuses at a Palestinian woman, and settler adults and children hurling stones at Palestinians.

In one notorious case, a video shot by a 17-year-old girl shows a young man, Ashraf Abu Rahma, during a demonstration against the building of the separation wall in the village of Ni’lin. Abu Rahma was blindfolded and handcuffed by Israeli soldiers (pictured, courtesy of B'Tselem) and shot in the foot with a rubber at close range, causing him to collapse. In fact, this is one of several videos that have led to Israeli investigations of Israelis shown using unacceptable violence.

The Special Award was judged by the nine trustees of One World, and sponsored by the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex University. The award is for the most outstanding media project or organization which is working on the ground in the developing world, and has an important impact on the lives of those around it.

The director of B’Tselem’s Video Department, Oren Yakobovich, and his Palestinian colleague Issa Amro of Hebron, received the award (pictured at the awards ceremony, Issa on the left). Yakobovich said, “We are delighted to be honored at these prestigious awards that celebrate the highest achievements in the media,” adding, “by giving people a camera, we’re giving them the chance to document the attacks they’ve been suffering for years. They finally have something they can ‘shoot back with’.”

The director of One World Media, Andy Glynne, said the organization is particularly proud of the Special Award this year. “The number of entries clearly surpassed anything we have had before, a testament to the energies of local media organizations, who are able to contribute, in their own unique way, to making media really matter on the ground around the world.”

The Camera Distribution Project faced tough competition from other entries on the Special Award shortlist. The judges commended several other projects, including Iraq’s first independent news agency Aswat al-Iraq and two TV soaps – a Dalan tele-serial (a weekly tale of Dalits) from Nepal, and Makutano Junction from Kenya.
The awards ceremony was presented by the award-winning foreign correspondent Fergal Keane and attended by more than 400 personalities from the media, government and the international development sector. Those present included the editor of the Guardian newspaper Alan Rusbridger, the head of news and current affairs at Channel 4 Dorothy Byrne, and actress Trudie Styler who founded the Rainforest Foundation Fund with her rock musician husband Sting.

The One World Media Awards, now in their 21st year, recognize excellence in media coverage of the developing world, and are regarded as the “Oscars” of factual broadcasting and journalism. They recognize the unique part played by journalists and filmmakers in bridging the gap between different societies and increasing awareness of pressing development issues.

It is heartening that such awards exist in a media climate in Britain in which the media is generally accused of dumbing down and is in thrall to the trivial celebrity culture. The sponsors of the awards include the BBC, Channel 4, Reuters, UNICEF and the British government’s Department for International Development.

The Middle East cropped up in relation to several of the twelve awards. This year saw the introduction of a new category – the Drama Award – which was won by the Lebanese feature film “Under the Bombs” directed by Lebanese-French director Philippe Aractingi.

“Under the Bombs” is the story of a mother looking for her son in the wake of the 2006 Israeli bombings of Lebanon. The judges praised its “powerful immediacy and truthfulness... an unusual marriage of a beautifully plotted script with a real-time journey across a devastated country.”

Jonathan Miller of Channel 4 News won the prize for Broadcast Journalist of the Year. He has produced a string of valuable reports from conflict hotspots, including his dispatches on Gaza during and after the Israeli offensive.

The BBC program “Iran and the West: The Pariah State”, produced by Norma Percy, won the TV Documentary Award. It is the second episode of the three-part series “Iran and the West” screened in February this year to mark the 30th anniversary of the Iranian revolution. The Radio Documentary Award went to another BBC program, “Crossing Continents: Dharavi” on an area of Mumbai that is said to be Asia’s biggest slum.

The International Development Award went to the film “Crude”, made by Joe Berlinger on the infamous 13-year “Amazon Chernobyl” case involving companies developing oil in Ecuador, and communities nearly destroyed by oil drilling. The judges praised the film’s “subtle nuance and real emotional engagement”.
The British Red Cross won the New Media Award for its interactive web game “Traces of Hope”. The game raises awareness of the charity’s Tracing and Message Service which puts in touch members of families separated by conflict or natural disaster.

For the very first time this year, the Children’s Rights Award, sponsored by UNICEF UK, was judged by a panel of young people aged between 16 and 20. The panel awarded the prize to a program in Channel 4’s Dispatches strand, entitled “Saving Africa’s Witch Children”. The program brings home the plight of children in some of the most impoverished parts of Nigeria, where thousands of them are being branded as witches and punished for disasters, famine and death.

at the awards ceremony L to R: Jonathan Miller, Issa Amro, Oren Yakobovich, Trudie Styler, Joe Berlinger

Monday, June 22, 2009

bbc tv's iraq mini-series 'occupation'

A mini-series explores Britain’s Iraqi involvement in Iraq
Susannah Tarbush

In a week when British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that a long-demanded independent inquiry into the Iraq war is to be held, BBC TV screened a powerful three-part drama mini-series on British involvement in Iraq entitled simply “Occupation”.

Both events attest to the lasting impact of the Iraq war on British political and cultural life. With the British operation in Iraq having officially ended at a ceremony in Basra at the end of April, there are renewed calls for a full disclosure of the reasons for, and conduct of, a war in which 179 Britons died and many more were badly injured.

It is not certain that the inquiry will fully dispel public distrust in the government over Iraq. Another way in which the issues around the Iraq war are being explored is through works of art, including drama. “Occupation” is the first BBC drama mini-series on the Iraq war, and it highlights the human complexities, confusion and moral ambiguities of the six-year engagement.

“Occupation” was broadcast in three one-hour episodes on successive nights from last Tuesday. It was filmed in Morocco and one member of the cast is Moroccan: actress Lubna Azabal, who plays Iraqi medical doctor Aliyah Nabil.

The mini-series packs an emotional punch which owes much to the consistently strong performances. The three central characters are British soldiers. Long-serving Sergeant Mike Swift is played with intensity by the Northern Irish actor James Nesbitt. Corporal Danny Peterson (Stephen Graham) is a restless, talkative risk-taker. Baby-faced innocent Lance Corporal Lee Hibbs (Warren Brown), known as Hibbsy, faces constant jibes from his anti-war sister when back in the UK.

The writer of “Occupation”, Peter Bowker, wanted to give the points of view of both Iraqi and British characters. A key element in the drama is the love that Mike, the apparently happily married father of two teenage children, develops for Dr Aliyah Nabil. A relationship seems impossible in the circumstances, and at one point she quotes to him lines from the Epic of Gilgamesh, including “what you seek you will never find”. Gilgamesh becomes a recurring motif of the series. Mike’s obsession with the Iraqi doctor leads his wife to divorce him.

We first see the three British soldiers inside a Warrior troop carrier in Basra in April 2003. When they take up position in a corridor of a block of flats a grenade is thrown at them. Mike saves a young girl whose leg is badly injured in the blast, carrying her in his arms to hospital.

It is here that Mike first encounters the petite, determined, chain-smoking Dr Aliyah. She tells him it will be impossible to operate on the girl’s leg as the hospital has neither the surgeons nor the equipment required.

Mike arranges for the girl to be airlifted from the hospital and flown with Dr Aliyah to a hospital in England. He becomes increasingly drawn to Aliyah, but on going to the hospital one day he finds that she and the girl have abruptly left for Iraq.

Mike, Danny and Hibbsy eventually return to Iraq. Mike wants to go back because he has been unable to get Aliyah out of his mind. Danny has been persuaded by burly, charismatic American ex-marine Lester (Nonso Anozie) to join him in setting up a private security firm. Hibbsy, who has been given a medical discharge from the army, decides to work for the firm. Lester and Danny engage gleefully with the web of corruption and fraud under which many billions of dollars disappeared in Iraq and are still unaccounted for.

When Mike tracks Aliyah down, he learns that she is married. She tells him that her husband, the director of the hospital in Basra, had been imprisoned by Saddam two years earlier and that she had been wrongly informed that he was dead. Her husband Dr Sadiq Alasadi , played by the Arabic-speaking Israeli actor of Iraqi Jewish origin Igal Naor, is a dedicated doctor who is sickened by Danny and Lester’s scamming of the hospital through their crooked construction contracts.

“Occupation” captures the sense of danger and suspicion on every corner, the increasing pressures on women, and the high price sometimes paid by Iraqis who work with the British and are seen as collaborators. Hibbsy strikes up a close friendship with a young Iraqi man, Yunis (Lewis Alsamari). When Yunis leaves his job with the security contractors he uses his money to fulfill his dream of setting up a pizzeria.

But when Hibbsy goes to visit Yunis in his new pizza business, Yunis is gunned down by two members of the Iraqi police whom Hibbsy had helped to train. Hibbsy is so traumatized that Danny asks Mike to take him back to England.

Hibbsy is haunted by the murder of Yunis and returns to Iraq to visit Yunis’s widow and children and give them all the money he has made. On leaving their house he is seized by a gang including the two policemen who killed Yunis and taken to the basement of a police station where he is dressed in an orange jump suit and prepared for execution by beheading. Danny stages a daring rescue to buy his freedom.

The script treats Hibbsy’s abductors not as blind fanatics but as men who are deeply angered by what has happened to their country. The lead captor asks Hibbsy: “Do you know how many Iraqis your bombs killed? Half a million.”

Mike goes out to Iraq for a third time in June 2007 with his son Richard, who has joined the army and admits to Mike how terrified he is. Aliyah’s husband has disappeared, and Mike offers to help find him. When he discovers who was behind Dr Alasadi’s abduction, he is filled with disbelief and disgust.

The action builds to an inevitably violent and tragic climax when the various fuses placed along the storyline are ignited and explode. In the final scene the three main characters are back in England trying to come to terms with their experiences. Mike, appalled by Danny’s greed and irresponsibility, asks what happened to him. Danny replies: “I went to Iraq. What happened to you?”

Monday, June 15, 2009

hanan al-shaykh's 'park story' & memoir about her mother

Reconciliation, motherhood and London
by Susannah Tarbush

Copies of a pink booklets entitled in English “A Beauty Parlour for Swans” and in Arabic “Saaloon Tajmeel Lil-Baja’’’ have started to appear on sale alongside the cakes and sandwiches at the open air café in Kensington Gardens, West London.

The bilingual booklet consists of a new short story by the Lebanese author Hanan Al-Shaykh [pictured below] in both the original Arabic, and in the English translation by Christina Phillips. The story is set in Kensington Gardens and is narrated by a 19-year-old Kuwaiti girl who has slipped into the gardens to secretly meet a young Lebanese man.

Hanan, a long-time resident of London, was commissioned to write the story by the Park Stories project of The Royal Parks, which administers London’s eight royal parks. The project commissioned eight prominent fiction authors to each write a story set in one of the parks. The stories can be bought singly or as a boxed set from the parks’ cafés and kiosks and from bookshops and online sites.

Al-Shaykh and her husband left Lebanon in the mid-seventies as a result of the Lebanese civil war, and they lived for a time in Saudi Arabia before settling in London. The fact that Al-Shaykh is the only writer of non-British origin to be invited to participate in Park Stories reflects the esteem and affection in which she is held in British literary circles.

Al-Shaykh is one of the few Arab fiction writers to portray the lives of Arab émigrés in London. Her novel “Only in London” focuses on Arabs in London and much of the action takes place in the Kensington Gardens-Hyde Park-Edgware Road area. The English translation was published in 2002 by London publisher Bloomsbury, and shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

Al-Shaykh’s novels and stories have been translated into some 16 languages. Her works in English translation include the novels “The Story of Zahra”, “Women of Sand and Myrrh” and “Beirut Blues”, and the short story collection “I Sweep the Sun off Rooftops”. “A Beauty Parlour for Swans” gives voice to the interior life of an Arab woman, and is written with the author’s characteristic perceptiveness, delicacy and unique humor.

At the start of June, Bloomsbury published the long-awaited English translation of her memoir “The Locust and the Bird: My Mother’s Story”, first published in Beirut in Arabic by Dar Al-Adab in 2005 as “Hikayati Sharhun Yatoul”. The excellent translation was undertaken by Professor Roger Allen of the University of Pennsylvania.

Al-Shaykh’s relationship with her mother Kamila was for years overshadowed by her mother’s divorce from Hanan’s father, whom she had been forced to marry at the age of only 14. She subsequently married the love of her life, Muhammad, and was separated from Hanan and her sister who were only seven and ten years old. Not surprisingly, Hanan felt abandoned by her mother. It was only towards the end of Kamila’s life that the barriers between the two women came down and Hanan came more fully to understand and accept the circumstances of her mother’s life.

“The Locust and The Bird” is described on its cover by the South African winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature J. M. Coetzee as “extraordinarily brave”, and it has been winning high praise from critics. On the afternoon of 19 June the London Review of Books Bookshop is organizing an event at the British Museum at which the British novelist Esther Freud will interview Al-Shaykh about Arab women’s role in society. The interview is part of World Literature Weekend.

Kamila grew up in southern Lebanon and Beirut and as a young girl she fell in love with the handsome poetic Muhammad. But then her married half-sister died after being bitten by a rabid rat and at the age of only 14 Kamila was pushed into a marriage with her widowed brother-in-law Abu-Hussein who was 18 years her senior.

Kamila had two daughters with Abu-Hussein, one of them Hanan, but after a few years she and Muhammad renewed their friendship and started to meet clandestinely. Eventually Muhammad asked Kamila’s father and brother for help in getting Abu-Hussein to agree to a divorce. Kamila’s divorce was seen by some as scandalous, and after their mother’s remarriage to Muhammad, Hanan and her sister rarely saw her. Kamila went on to have five children with Muhammad, who died at the age of 38 after a car crash.

Most of the memoir is written in the first-person voice of Kamila who says that in the end she sought peace, “confronting Hanan at last with my past, asking her to write it down. Only then did I start to see its wrinkled layers gradually turn smooth, with each word I uttered, with every place I remembered.” Kamila’s personality comes across vividly as mischievous, witty and romantic. She adored cinema from an early age, and her imagination was fired by films. She grew up in a milieu where women’s popular culture was rich in songs, proverbs, and oral tales. One of the things the bookish Mohammad first admired about her was the way she expressed herself, but she never received a formal education, having to work for the family at an early age, and remained illiterate.

Al-Shaykh writes: “My mother wrote this book. She is the one who spread her wings. I just blew the wind that took her on her long journey back in time.”
Saudi Gazette June 15 2009

Friday, June 12, 2009

daniyal mueenuddin's 'in other rooms, other wonders

A Pakistani writer portrays his country in prizewinning prose
by Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette June 8 2009

Many people dream of changing the direction of their lives and becoming successful fiction writers, but very few manage to turn that dream into reality. One who has done so to extraordinary effect is the Pakistani-American lawyer Daniyal Mueenuddin who left his job at a large New York law firm some years back to pursue a career as a writer.

Today he is an acclaimed Pakistan-based author whose recently-published debut short story collection “In Other Rooms, Other Wonders” has created much excitement in literary circles on both sides of the Atlantic. At the same time he manages the family farm in Khanpur, southern Punjab.

Late last month “In Other Rooms, Other Wonders” won the Best International Book category at the glitzy annual Muslim Writers Awards ceremony, held at London’s Park Lane Hilton Hotel. The ceremony was a double triumph for Mueenuddin’s British publisher Bloomsbury; the award for Best Published Fiction was awarded to Bloomsbury’s Kamila Shamsie for her novel “Burnt Shadows”.

Mueenuddin and Shamsie are among several Pakistani fiction authors who have leapt to international prominence as part of a new wave of Pakistani writing in English. Among the others are Mohsin Hamid, Nadeem Aslam and Mohammed Hanif. Some commentators speak of a ‘renaissance’ in Pakistani writing, but at a recent reading and discussion in London with young British Muslims of mostly Pakistani origin, organized by City Circle, Mueenuddin played down this theory. “India has this amazing literary scene with these remarkable works produced, but that is because there was a long history of them,” he remarked. “We’ve broken from that history and we didn’t respect it; we lost it and it’s going to take a long time to rebuild – there’s been a tremendous break in Pakistani culture.”

He cautioned that it could be a long time before Pakistan makes its mark on the English language literary scene. “We are in for a long haul and I don’t see any renaissance any time soon. People talk about me and Nadeem, Kamila, Hanif, Mohsin and a few others as a renaissance, but we’re just a minor little eruption. It is going to be a while before we have a real literary culture,” he stated.

“In Other Rooms, Other Wonders” consists of eight loosely-connected stories, most of them linked with K.K. Harouni, an old landowner and retired civil servant from Lahore. Mueenuddin takes the reader deep into the overlapping worlds of feudal landlords, peasants, servants, clerks, judges, new industrialists and decadent gilded youth. The stories explore power relationships - often against a background of casual corruption. Mueenuddin delves, often with tenderness, into the emotional lives of those who are normally invisible and marginalized. As the dynamics of his stories are played out, they tend to have melancholy endings. Mueenuddin has a gift for conveying in a few words a powerful sense of a personality or place.

Mueenuddin is an adept storyteller, but the key to his writing is his love and practice of poetry, which he started writing at the age of ten. He still reads a great deal of poetry. “In terms of my language that (poetry) training, that practice, has shaped what I’ve done. I’m very concerned with cadence, and with repetition and with the length of lines.” He added that some very good writers “shoot their prose out”, but his writing is “built bit by bit”, particularly during the process of rewriting.

Although Mueenuddin writes in English, the language environment of Pakistan profoundly influences his work. Living on the farm, he would speak almost exclusively in Urdu and Punjabi (at least until the arrival of his Norwegian wife Cecilie, whom he first met when he visited Norway on a Fulbright scholarship). Urdu is very much present in his prose: “Urdu diction and Urdu images are like the raisins in the bread of my writing,” he revealed.

Mueenuddin was born in Los Angeles in 1963 to a Pakistani father and American mother. His late father, Ghulam Mueenuddin, served as Secretary of the Establishment Department in Pakistan, and later became the country’s chief election commissioner. Daniyal spent his childhood in Pakistan, and then went to Dartmouth College in the US. He later qualified in Law from Yale University.

Members of the audience at City Circle were curious as to why and how he made the transition from law to writing. He said that although he had found law school a lot of fun, “being a lawyer is extremely dull and you make rich people richer.” Writing short stories from 2002 onwards was “the beginning of an escape strategy” for him.

He subsequently enrolled in an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) course in Creative Writing at the University of Arizona, which he completed in 2006. In that year his first published story, “Our Lady of Paris” which appeared in Zoetrope: All-Story, the short-fiction magazine founded by film director Francis Coppola. The story was nominated for a National Magazine Award.

Mueenuddin acquired a literary agent, Bill Clegg, who helped him to get three stories published in the New Yorker in 2007 and 2008. The first of these, “Nawabdin Electrician”, was selected for the 2008 edition of “The Best American Short Stories”, while another story “Provide, Provide” was published the UK magazine Granta. Mueenuddin also has a Hollywood agent who is promoting “In Other Rooms, Other Wonders” to the film industry but Mueenuddin remarked that he would not wish to write a script himself because “there’s so much money involved that it’s not about language or plot, it’s about what sells. And I think that would be very frustrating.”

During the City Circle discussion, Mueenuddin was generally pessimistic about the current situation in Pakistan. “In Pakistan we are fighting for our lives, our house is on fire – how can we afford to allocate resources to developing art?” But he spoke with enthusiasm of an unusual literary initiative: a short story competition entitled “Life’s Too Short” launched by the Z Z & Zohra Ahmed Foundation in Lahore. Mueenuddin is one of the three judges, together with Kamila Shamsie and Mohammed Hanif. There is a first prize of 100,000 rupees (around $1,249), a second of 20,000 rupees and a third of 10,000 rupees. The ten best stories will be published as an anthology. Participants must be of Pakistani origin and enter stories in English of up to 5,000 words. The deadline is the end of this month and more information can be found at www.lifestooshort.pk

Friday, June 05, 2009

British Museum's 'Indian Summer'

image credit: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

A six-month Indian Summer comes to the British Museum

Visitors to the British Museum between now and the end of September will find that the forecourt has been transformed into a colorful “India Landscape” garden. Chunky boulders, surrounded by a profusion of rhododendrons, represent the Himalayas, with purple-flowered rock jasmine growing in crannies. There are trees such as the Himalayan walnut, white-barked birches and the blue sausage tree and flowers including the Himalayan blue poppy.

The walkway through the India Landscape passes the trees and flora of three main climatic zones of India: the Himalayas, temperate woodland and the tropical lushness of the south. The garden includes a pool filled with lotus flowers; swathes of gold-orange marigolds; coconut, fishtail and betel nut palms; tiger bamboo; mango and peepul trees, and holy basil. At the end of the path is a gnarled banyan tree. The Landscape highlights the ways in which plants are used in Indian culture, as food, medicine and in trade.

The garden is a joint project of the British Museum and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, both of which mark their 250th anniversaries this year. The director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, says that “when the British Museum first opened its doors in January 1759, the culture that, beyond all others, most fascinated Britain was India.” The association between the Museum and Indian subcontinent “remains as close today as it was 250 years ago.”

The India Landscape is part of the British Museum’s six-month Indian Summer season, sponsored by HSBC. The season kicked off last week with the opening of the dazzling exhibition ‘Garden & Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur’, at a ceremony addressed by Prince Charles.

The exhibition consists of 54 large paintings from the royal collection at the Mehrangarh Museum Trust in Jodhpur City, Rajasthan, plus two works from the British Museum and two from the National Museum of India. The stunningly vibrant and detailed paintings were produced by artists in the courts of three maharajas – Bakhat Singh, Vijai Sing and Man Singh – who ruled between 1752 and 1843.

This is the first time that these unique paintings have been seen in Europe. The exhibition is organized by the Arthur M Sackler Gallery of Washington DC, part of the Smithsonian Institution, and has already been mounted in the Sackler Gallery and in the Seattle Asian Art Museum. After ending its run at the British Museum on August 23, the exhibition will open in November at the National Museum of India.

Co-curator of the exhibition Sona Datta [pictured] says: “These paintings confound all our expectations about what Indian painting traditionally is.” They came out of both the Indo-Persian tradition of the Mughal court and the folk idioms of traditional Rajasthani art. Whereas traditional art was in the form of miniatures, the Jodhpur paintings are in a landscape format.

The Jodhpur court paintings are in two distinct styles. One is the ornate style of portrayals of courtly life and of the verdant forests where scenes from ancient epics were played out; the other is metaphysical painting concerned with philosophical speculation and the origins of the universe.

At the press view of the exhibition last Thursday, Neil MacGregor said that as one walks around ‘Garden & Cosmos’, one goes “from a landscape of the senses to a landscape of the spirit.” The exhibition shows an “astonishing progression in one court, over two or three generations, in what landscape can attempt to do and the kind of areas of human experience it can address.”

The Rathore clan, ancestors of the Jodhpur maharajas, migrated from central to north-west India in the 1200s and established themselves in the Marwar region on the edge of the Thar Desert. Their rulers accepted the sovereignty of the Muslim Mughal Empire in 1564, and the painters at the Marwar court adopted many Mughal techniques when they encountered Mughal paintings.

Bakhat Singh murdered his father Ajit Singh in 1724. His elder brother Abhai succeeded to the throne of Marwar and granted Bakhat the territory and fortress of Nagaur, north east of Jodhpur. Bakhat Singh ruled there until 1751 when he acceded to the throne at Marwar, only to be poisoned by his niece the following year.

Bakhat Singh rebuilt Nagaur Palace in the Imperial Mughal style, turning it into a garden paradise. The paintings from his time show him indulging in courtly pleasures. In the 1737 painting “Maharaja Bakhat Singh at the Jharokha Window of the Bakaht Singh Mahal” he sits at a public viewing window while women below honor him with music and dance. [image reproduced courtesy of the British Museum and Mehrangarh Museum Trust]

During Maharaja Vijai Singh’s reign, 1752-93, the Jodhpur artists created monumental manuscripts, with pages that are full-length paintings, around 135 cm wide. These manuscripts tell the stories of epics such as the Ramayana. The settings have moved beyond palace gardens to the more open landscape of the forest. These magical landscapes are a riot of patterns with their repeated motifs of animals, plants, trees, figures and water.

The court painters at the time of Maharaja Man Singh, who ruled from 1803 to 1843, tried to put visual expression to such questions as the origins of the universe and they often worked in symbolic language. Datta says: “Some of the resolutions they come to are very modern in their outlook and some of the triptychs with their flat planes of gold wouldn’t look out of place hanging in a 21st century gallery in East London

[image courtesy of the British Museum and Mehrangarh Museum Trust shows The Emergence of Spirit and Matter from the Shiva Purna]

The Indian Summer season includes a series of lectures and talks on the ‘Garden & Cosmos’ exhibition and on aspects of Indian art and landscape. Seven Indian films are to be screened, ranging from the 1957 work “Mother India”, directed by Mehboob Khan, to Satyjit Ray’s “Kanchenjungha” (1962) and Shivajee Chandrabhushan’s “Frozen” (2007). For the artistically-inclined, there are two workshops on Indian botanical painting in June led by the acclaimed Indian botanical artist Hemlata Pradhan.

On June 12 there is an evening of readings of Indian poetry in English and several Indian languages, chosen by poet Ketaki Kushari Dyson, interspersed with Indian music. On July 17 there will be an evening of Indian music and dance by performers from Rajasthan, together with Indian food tasting from across the regions. From late July to late August there are daily children’s activities inspired by India Landscape and ‘Garden & Cosmos’.

For those interested in discussing not so much the past as where India goes from here, particularly in view of the recent elections, there is on September 19 a one-day conference on ‘India Now and in the Future’.
Susannah Tarbush