Guided Research Field Trip to Manipur for American Artists will bring eminent
artists and scholars from the US to the state of Manipur in India. As a media
curator and filmmaker, I have been in conversation with the artists listed
above about working on some projects together. Since even widely traveled
people in the West (and even in India) have very little knowledge about Manipur
and the northeastern region of India, the first-hand experience of a field trip
is a necessary first step.
artists? The project has some distinctive features:
If the imagination of the artist is one of the most effective avenues for
cross-cultural understanding, the absence of knowledge, general or scholarly,
about Manipur in the West makes this approach even more valuable than for other
parts of the world.
The Field Trip is conceived to be, in effect, an in situ artistic salon. Here
outsiders - Indian or foreign nationals - will visit not just to enjoy
Manipur’s culture as it is woven into life with nothing arranged or
presented for them.
The Field Trip will be designed for interaction between American and Manipuri
artists. It may come as no surprise that while Manipuri cultural products are
occasionally shown in the West, few Western artists have brought their
sensibility and craft to isolated, remote Manipur. By sharing a little bit of
their art, the visitors will get a more intimate experience of Manipur.
Most people who visit Manipur are missionaries or agents of development. The
Field Trip will not have changing or improving the people on its agenda; it
will not be designed to look at what is lacking or ailing in a poor country. It
will be appreciate, enjoy, interact, enrich and contribute. It will be based on
But indirectly, by defining a new space for non-confrontational and creative
encounters, unlike prior interactions among artists across borders, this
interaction will go beyond the art and craft and explore the potential role of
artists, art and culture in conflict transformation.
Lastly, potential producers such as GOH Productions, and supporters, such as
individual funders for any resulting collaborations or projects will benefit
from their encounter with Manipuri culture through the eyes of artists.
lies in the Uplands in the northeastern India. It is one of the stops along the
lesser-known Silk Roads of Southeast Asia. A state of India, this 2000-year old
former kingdom is about the size of Long Island. Manipuris, who number just
over a million, live in the central valley the size of Rhode Island. They are
Tibeto-Burman in ethnicity and language, and follow a syncretic practice of
Vaishnav Hinduism and Sanamahi, a traditional blend of ancestor-worship and
animism. Manipur, like the rest of northeastern India is closed to foreigners
on account of ethnic separatism.
culture is one of the most remarkable, yet least known, in the world today.
There, everyone is an artist. Its music and dance, known as Manipuri, is one of
four recognized as a classical style in India. Its films, made in Manipuri,
have won national and international awards and been shown at venues like Cannes
and the Museum of Modern Art. It has over 200 theater companies, with its
directors showing at festivals such as Avignon, BAM Next Wave and Edinburgh. It
has its own cosmology, literature, cable stations, TV soap operas and websites.
is quite unimportant really, depending on how one looks at it. Greater
civilizations have come and gone. But since the latter half of the 20th
century, Manipur is in danger of destruction. In the face of ethnic insurgency
and poverty, only culture may offer a new challenging and positive alternative
for a positive non-confrontational interaction and cultural resurgence. It is
perhaps the only practical strategic alternative to the draining and mutually
destructive guns-or-money relationship with the Indian mainland.
interfacing with American cultural practitioners will enhance Manipuris'
perception of their cultural self and offer a new and invigorating validation.
New interactions with cultures that Manipur has with cultures it does not
traditionally have connections with, will enrich and empower its local culture.
A new sense of self will arm Manipuris to evolve new forums, new discussions,
new strategies, and new hopes.
the American artists:
astonishingly rich and microcosmic dollhouse of culture, high and low,
Manipur's size and complexity make for a cultural laboratory for better
understanding of what makes a culture distinct, discrete and alive. It offers
intriguing possibilities for innovative and challenging experiments in cultural
activism and preservation in the age of rapid homogenization, globalization and
Many of the component
projects seek to explore ways to approach cultural exchange and interactions
that go beyond the import and exhibition of cultural products to an inquiry
into the transitive nature of the creative process across cultural boundaries,
as well as urgent issues of cultural homogenization under globalization. Each
project is conceived on is own merit, regardless of a prior interest or
knowledge of Manipuri culture.
NEW TERRITORY FOR CULTURAL ENGAGEMENT?
unfamiliar area where South Asia, China and Southeast Asia meet, which includes
the northeast of India, has the potential to emerge as a new area for cultural
engagement. With the leverage and seed-funding of the Asian Cultural Council's
support and the interest of eminent American artists, the possibility of other
philanthropists getting engaged in this region emerges.
the northeast of India in particular, there are several reasons why this area
has been ignored so far, including:
The closing off of this region of India to foreign nationals for over five decades.
Emerging nationalisms on both sides of the border offer a novel opportunity to
reconsider the Big Issues: culture, preservation, nationalism, ethnicity are
thrown into sharp relief here.
developments in the surrounding regions offer an insight into this potential
for a new period of engagement:†
In 1997, the Kunming Initiative was initiated by Beijing and New Delhi to
explore and promote new connections building on the old ones between India,
China and Southeast Asia.
In July 2003, an institute exploring ties between northeastern India and the
countries of Southeast Asia was started with funding from the Ford Foundation
in New Delhi. It is headed by Sanjib Baruah, a professor at Bard College and a
native of Assam.
There are now flights between Chiengmai, Chittagong and Kunming; a new link
between Imphal and Mandalay is in the planning, the lesser-known Silk Roads of
this region are being rebuilt and a new Asian Highway will run though this
region to Hanoi.
New ways of looking at regional culture are under way in this part of the
world. For instance, a focus on the cultures of the Mekong River will be held
at the Smithsonian Institution in 2007.†