Over the past several decades, India and France have forged mutually beneficial and collaborative ties in the realm of education, scientific research and culture. The Institut Francais en Inde has been at the forefront of strengthening cultural ties through various events in association with the Alliance Françoise network across the country. From the 17th century until 1954, France maintained a colonial presence in the subcontinent. Puducherry, one of its former Indian territories, is a popular tourism destination for travelers from France.
The first Festival of India in France was inaugurated in 1985 by late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in Paris and left a lasting impression in the minds of the French people. Subsequently, the 2009 French festival – Bonjour India and the Indian festival, Namaste France, brought the Indian and the French public closer to each other. Bonjour India 2013 opened new perspectives. Namasté France 2015 was held in the backdrop of President Hollande and Prime Minister Modi recalling the cultural importance of the two nations.
All these underline the importance of partnership between India and France.
More proof of this intellectual, artistic and literary partnership can be found in Marg’s spanking new issue ‘India-France: Artistic Exchanges’ .It seeks to explore the depth of the creative exchanges that have been going since the past eight decades.
As Latika Gupta says in the editorial note, ‘the interactions between India and the non-Anglophone European nations are relatively understudied.’ The French interest in India was, as she says, was driven by a fascination for Indic philosophies, theology and the country’s rich ancient and mediaeval heritage sites. Certainly, the connection between the two countries was never that of a colonizer and colony.
Guest-edited by Devika Singh, this issue has several themes and sub-themes; it has more than a few exciting and imaginative articles on personalities and paintings, places and persons.
Devika Singh in her opening piece has gone into the whole, yet concise, history of artistic exchanges between the two countries. According to her, ‘the work of Indian artists in Paris belongs as much to the global history of Indian artistes it does to that of art in France.’
Three articles in the issue deserve mention: Henri Cartier-Bresson in India:
Portfolio selected and introduced by Beth Citron;André Malraux and India by Maël Renouard (translated by Devika Sigh and William Snow)and Auroville: The Creation of a City by Aurélien Lemonier.
Cartier-Bresson’s love for India is well known .The street photography and particularly those of the partition are important landmarks in the history of the sub-continent. The few photographs appended are a sort of recapitulating the past.
André Malraux, French novelist, art theorist and Minister of Cultural Affairs and author of novel La Condition Humaine (Man’s Fate) and who was France’s first Minister of Cultural Affairs during de Gaulle’s presidency (1959–69) had a lovely relation with India –‘his Antimemoeries’ depict the mystic India. As Renouard says, ‘Malraux found in Indian thought another metaphysics, and a form of salvation, for the poetic interplay with identity that runs through his entire oeuvre.’.
“Farenghi Paintings”: Cultural Exchanges between France and India, 1550–1850 by Jean-Marie Lafont;Approaching India: French Fragments by Deepak Ananth;A Shifting Consideration of Louis Malle’s Phantom India by Shanay Jhaveri; A Savage Garden: The Paris Photographs of Umrao Singh Sher-Gil by Rakhee Balaram;Costumes and Collages by Christian Lacroix and Pascal Monteil;Alternative Conceptualism: Jean Bhownagary and Krishna Reddy in Paris by Sumesh Sharma;Portrait of a Paradox: Novera by Nada Raza – all go to make the issue an eminently readable and exhaustive one.
While the entire gamut of Indo-French relations in the current times needs to be explored, Marg’s attempt to delve into the artistic past couldn’t have come at a better time.
‘India-France: Artistic Exchanges (September-December) 2017, Rs. 350
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Bhaskar Parichha is a Bhubaneswar-based senior journalist and author. He writes on almost every conceivable topic but is more obsessive about writings on society and culture.