Culture Review: First Dalit Literature Festival, New Museum in Iraq, Nineveh Gates Destroyed by ISIS

A selection of arts and culture news from India and around the world.

Rajan and Sajan Mishra, the popular Hindustani vocal duo and Padma Bhushan awardees, will perform at the upcoming Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh starting April 28. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Rajan and Sajan Mishra, the popular Hindustani vocal duo and Padma Bhushan awardees, will perform at the upcoming Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh starting April 26. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

First Dalit Literature Festival announced

On the occasion of B.R. Ambedkar’s 62nd death anniversary, a first-of-its-kind not-for-profit Dalit Literature Festival will be held from December 6-8, 2016.

According to a press release provided by the organisers to The Wire, the festival will feature a range of authors, languages and concerns, in order to reflect that contemporary “Dalit literature” is equally about political assertion and victimhood, resistance and inclusion, and that it today encompasses issues of environmental exploitation, racial discrimination in other parts of the world, and women’s and gay rights.

The press release concludes: “While there is no doubt that Dalit literature and traditions have found robust platforms, particularly at several literature festivals, it is time that there be a standalone festival – in order to showcase, and generate interest amongst the overall literary community, particularly the youth.”

Speaking to The Wire, one of the festival’s conceivers, editor and publisher Sudha Sadanand, said, “There is no political intent behind the festival whatsoever. The entire focus is on literature and books. The festival is one more initiative towards the larger goal of encouraging reading among youth – of vernacular literature in particular, but any kind at all. It is not about victimhood or anger but celebration and inclusion – with lots of room for dissent. To that end, the festival will also include other art forms like music and dance.”

Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh begins in Banaras on April 26

The Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh, one of India’s premier classical performing arts festivals, will begin on April 26 in Varanasi and continue each night until May 1.

The festival is one of India’s most special. It happens in a temple, continuing the tradition of music and dance in temples as a form of shringar, and artists approach their performance as a form of hazari. There is little divide between the performers and the audience.

This year’s festival will feature performances by top vocalists Pandit Jasraj, Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Ulhas Kashalkar and Kaushiki Chakraborty; tabla maestros Anindo Chatterjee, Suresh Talwalkar and Sanju Sahai, and instrumentalists Hariprasad Chaurasiya (flute), Neeladri Kumar  (sitar) and Shivmani (drums).

Teenagers at the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art. Credit: Flickr.

Teenagers at the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art. Credit: Flickr.

New US study on impact of museum arts programmes on adults

A first-of-its-kind US-based study reports that museum arts programmes for teens have powerful effects that extend into adulthood.

A group of museums in Los Angeles commissioned a study to measure the effectiveness of their teen arts programmes: 75% of their informants rated programmes in which they had participated as “the most positive influence” on their own lives, over the influences of family and school, 96% had visited an art museum in the last two years, implying that such programmes have not just a one-time effect but continue to do so and produce culturally invested individuals.

Iraq opens a new museum amidst ISIS conflict

Saddam Hussein’s former palace in Basra is being converted into a national museum, the first to open in Iraq in decades. The new museum will open in September 2016.

After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the palace served as a British Army mess hall – its façade is still scarred from car bombs. When the British left in 2008, the palace was handed over to Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, on the suggestion of the board’s director Qahtan al-Abeed. The central government has taken years to approve the museum.

The museum will have four halls with artifacts from ancient Sumer, Babylon, Assyria and the Islamic periods of Iraq’s long history. With memories of the 2003 looting of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad all too alive, steel doors that can be quickly sealed are being installed at the museum’s entrances.

The larger area of Basra is one of the world’s largest archaeological sites, and one of the least explored. The port of Basra – famously home to Sinbad – was founded in AD 636, and became a centre for Indian Ocean trade, and intellectual and artistic life. Al-Abeed is ambitiously undertaking not only the establishment of the new museum but also the rehabilitation of the old city into a heritage site for tourists and the people of Basra themselves.

The Mashki gate at Nineveh. Credit: Flickr

The Mashki gate at Nineveh. Credit: Flickr

ISIS destroys ancient Nineveh gates in Iraq

The National Geographic has received photographs confirming ISIS has destroyed the gates of Mashki and Nergal at the ancient site of Nineveh in Mosul, Iraq. Nineveh was the capital of the Neo-Assyrian empire around 700 BC and the largest city in the world at the time, marked by King Sennacherib’s sprawling palace and numerous temples. The gates were prized symbols of heritage for the Arab Muslim and Arab Christian populations of Mosul, who consider themselves ascendants of the Assyrians.

Since it first seized Mosul in June 2014, ISIS has been deliberately destructing monuments and libraries in what is likely a “scorched earth policy” designed to threaten the Iraqi army.

Roman villa unearthed in Britain

A Roman villa has been discovered in a British backyard, along with coins, pottery, jewellery, a well and a child’s coffin, and the remains of timber buildings constructed on the ruins of the villa.

The villa is massive – one of the largest such to have been built on the British Isles – and well preserved. According to archaeologists with Historic England, its discovery is “unparalleled” in recent years and of “national significance,” and presents a perfect opportunity to understand Roman and post-Roman Britain.

The Busan Cinema Centre, Busan, South Korea. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Busan Cinema Centre, Busan, South Korea. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

South Korean filmmakers boycott Busan Film Festival

Nine South Korean film organisations, including the Korean Film Producers Association and the Directors’ Guild of Korea, have boycotted the Busan International Film Festival, in protest over  government interference in the festival. The Busan International Film Festival is one of Asia’s top film events.

Tensions began in 2014 when the mayor of Busan tried to block a documentary about the government’s response to the sinking of a ferry that killed almost 300 people. In 2015, the government did not renew the contract of Lee Yong-kwan, the festival’s co-founder, who allowed the documentary to be screened. The government also slashed its funding for the festival by almost half.

114 members of the international film community, including Thierry Fremaux, director of the Cannes film festival, have written an open letter demanding that government interference stop.

It is unclear whether the festival will take place in 2016.