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Marking the 75th anniversary of independence, India/UK Together is a season of culture with co-created projects that address shared global challenges. Jonathan Kennedy reports.

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India/UK Together Season of Culture

Theatre, music, books, museums, films, galleries, festivals, crafts and even gaming define who we are and how we understand each other across-cultures and borders. Arts and creative industries empower nations, even more so when they connect across geographic boundaries.

They create jobs and drive economic growth though national and international trade; and develop pride through inclusive communities. As we emerge from the global pandemic, we have much to reflect and learn from the experience and remember from what went before. 

Arts and culture connect people and challenge perceptions, build empathy and understanding, reflect histories and contemporary realities and, on occasions, they inspire new ways of seeing and exploring the world.

Enduring bonds of friendship

Grammy and Oscar winning composer AR Rahman is the ambassador for the British Council’s India/UK Together Season of Culture. He has spoken of the enduring bonds of friendship between people in India and the UK. The 1.5 million British Indian’s living in the UK are testimony to that friendship.

The India/UK relationship has many facets and a challenging history. As both countries mark India’s 75th anniversary of independence, it is the cultural ties that offer opportunities to look to the future, ties born of mutuality and India’s enduring self-reliance. 

The UK’s trading partnership with India saw £3.1bn in services imports, representing 8.1% of total DCMS sector service imports in 2019. Taken in total, India ranks third globally in creative industries imports to the UK, after USA and Ireland. 

Landmark anniversary year

India/UK Together is an ambitious, ten-month arts and culture season, recently launched in Delhi. It will enable collaborations between both nations, acting as a platform for greater artistic exchange and opportunities as we shine the spotlight on culture. 

The collaborations across traditional art-forms will deepen creative exchange as well as showcase cutting-edge digital innovation through gaming, AI, and VR. Artists and young people from the diaspora, Dalit writers, LGBTQI poets, and artists with disabilities will collaborate to reflect on the modern diversity of both India and the UK.

Over 1,400 emerging artists will create physical and digital immersive experiences for audiences across England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and India from Bangalore to Manchester, Mumbai to Bristol, Kolkata to London, Delhi to Derry, Ahmedabad to Edinburgh and Chennai to Cardiff.

Addressing shared global challenges 

Audiences can look forward to over 40 collaborations in the spirit of ‘Together’ to address shared global challenges through the lens of digital innovation, environmental sustainability, equality, gender inclusion and diversity of voices to empower young leaders of the future.

The stimulating and thought-provoking collaborations were selected via an open-call from over 115 joint India/UK applications. The Season of Culture sought proposals which address contemporary themes including Science, Arts and Heritage in times of change; India’s Multilingual Literature and the global opportunity; Reimagining Festivals for the future; and the Creative Economy working together.

One such collaboration culminates in an exhibition later this year between the Victoria Memorial Hall (India) and the Natural History Museum (UK). Young Minds for a Compassionate World will provide a platform for young people to join the climate conversation and respond to challenges to the biodiversity of West Bengal. Skilling young people up in wildlife photography empowers them to communicate their concerns and dreams, and on a global scale. 

Similarly, Language is a Queer Thing brings together LGBTQIA+ poets to explore the relationship between language and queerness. This poetry exchange is the result of BBC Contains Strong Language (UK), Verve Poetry Festival (UK) and The Queer Muslim Project (India) coming together.

Other collaborations in theatre, music and visual arts respond to innovation in NFTs. A gaming project currently developing 3-D images from museums’ collections in both countries will take the shared history to new audiences using AI and VR, through the curatorial lens of India’s young artists. 

The Jana Sanskriti Theatre is collaborating for the first time with Graeae Theatre and director Tim Wheeler for a new touring production in West Bengal of TS Elliot’s The Wasteland with a company of artists with disabilities.

Paving the way ahead

As the UK’s cultural relations arm in India, the British Council has invested in creating meaningful opportunities for India’s emerging and established artists and creative professionals by enabling them to connect, share and create international projects with counterparts in the UK. This season extends our commitment to accelerating creative opportunities for emerging artists in both nations.

Building on our international projects in crafts, festivals, heritage and literature, the programme offers many new opportunities for emerging artists. Co-creating and collaboration between cutting edge artists and dynamic arts organisations we hope will pave the way for a generation of young artists and arts entrepreneurs to strengthen the bilateral bonds of friendship between India and the UK.

Jonathan Kennedy is Director Arts India at British Council.
@JonathanKennedy | @inBritish | @BritishArts

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