Last year, the British Council launched a unique initiative, the ‘India/UK Together, a Season of Culture’, to mark India’s 75th year of Independence. The idea was to focus on shared cultural heritage, among other things. This was part of the India-UK Roadmap 2030, announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Boris Johnson, then-prime minister of the UK. “This strategic roadmap lays emphasis on enhancing collaboration to support the development of India and UK’s creative economies to create wealth and secure livelihoods,” mentions the note by the British Council.
As part of this, the Season of Culture has fostered 40-plus collaborations between over 1400 artists from India and the UK, which will take place till March 2023. The idea is to address pressing issues of gender equality, health, climate change and education through some of these artistic collaborations. Exhibitions such as ‘Vaccines Injecting Hope’, currently on view in Delhi, are also part of this initiative. Scott McDonald, chief executive, British Council, shares the organisation’s vision to create cultural connections between India and the UK.
How has the cultural engagement between the UK and India evolved in the past few decades?
Cultural, historic, and linguistic ties provide the UK with a strong foundation to deepen its bilateral relationship with India for the mutual benefit of both nations. Although our shared history is complex, today our countries stand together in arts, culture and education. Both of us are strongly aligned to the priorities set out in the 2030 Roadmap, especially in strengthening the creative economy and culture industries. This is also a pivotal time for India and UK relations as India takes on the Presidency of the G20 for 2023.
Young people in both countries have affirmed they aspire to be self-reliant citizens in a globalised world. As India’s economy rises, there are numerous areas where both countries can build even stronger ties. This year we are delivering the India/ UK Together Season of Culture.
How does the Season of Culture strengthen the British Council's commitment to India?
The Season of Culture has facilitated collaborations between artists and arts organisations from both countries, while serving as a platform for greater artistic exchange, global opportunities, and exposure. We are celebrating a broad community of artists, innovators, and educators from India and the UK, with equality, diversity, and inclusion at the Season’s core. The Season is exploring our cultures, our planet, and our relationship with digital technologies that will shape our future together.
For example, through the CSMVS (Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai) partnership with the British Library; the Victoria Memorial Hall with the Natural History Museum in London; Jana Sanskriti Theatre and Graeae Theatre; and the India Museum Experience and Manchester Museum, many young artists are collaborating to build awareness of shared global challenges and future cultural collaborations.
Are there newer disciplines/artistic intersections that the British Council is exploring in India?
Through our work in the arts, we are creating equitable opportunities for artists and the creative industries to recover from the impact of the pandemic by adopting new and innovative approaches.
The India/UK Together Season of Culture brings together over 40 partners in more than 20 cities from India and the United Kingdom to create both physical and digital immersive experiences. Some cross-genre collaborations enrich the creative dialogue while showcasing cutting-edge VR, AI, and gaming innovations in the arts. Other collaborations in the performing arts, music, and visual arts have used NFT innovation to showcase cutting-edge festivals and exhibitions focused on shared global challenges. We are highlighting diverse voices in literature, publishing and theatre, including Dalit authors and LGBTQI+ poets.
The use of digital grew exponentially during the pandemic as means of creating, distributing, and consuming arts. The Season of Culture has CreaTec and digital access as a theme and has led to the creation the British Council’s new ‘Festivals from India’ platform.
How is the British Council focusing on alternative sexualities, gender, and marginalised communities through its new programming?
We know that strong societies thrive when all people are valued and have equal opportunities to access inclusive education, arts and culture. We act as a catalyst to strengthen social development through plurality of voices. In the Season, this is featured through the collaboration between the Queer Muslim Project, Verve Festival in Birmingham and the BBC Contains Strong Language programmes.
Gender equality is a major aspect of our programmes globally. Our India/UK Together programme will spotlight pioneering women leaders at the forefront of CreaTec in India and the UK.
The annual Five Films For Freedom series with the BFI has successfully raised the voice of LGBTIQ+ filmmakers in India and globally through world cinema.
How are festivals being reimagined for the future?
Arts festivals are not just cultural gatherings. We understand their potential to contribute to the economy through cultural tourism and allied industries. Some of our flagship festivals programmes focus on making festivals more inclusive and environmentally sustainable, while expanding audiences globally. This is vital for their future. The Ziro Festival in Arunachal Pradesh and Focus Wales Festival are wonderful examples of social inclusion and climate consciousness in action.
Our ongoing Season of Culture featured one-of-a-kind festivals; Rhythm Xchange, where attendees enjoyed a magical fusion of Indian percussion with UK drum and bass in both Bangalore and Manchester; artworks were developed using cutting-edge technologies for one of the first AI festivals in India that addresses climate change, and Govandi Arts Festival brings young people together with a huge lantern parade in Mumbai and Bristol.
How is an intersection of science/tech and culture being looked at?
Science and technology are no longer confined to the laboratory, and—along with knowledge and imagination—are fundamental in facilitating global connections. The recently opened ‘Vaccines: Injecting Hope’ exhibition in Delhi, co-developed by The National Council for Science Museums India and Science Museum Group in London, is an exemplar of science innovation interspersed with an artistic installation. Commissioned for the Season of Culture, the exhibition features a sculpture flanked by animated stories and a 19th century painting, interpreting historical responses and contemporary perceptions around vaccinations across different cultures while also reflecting on the India-UK collaboration for the distribution of the vaccine.