You don't have to be Indian to celebrate India.
The subcontinent has been an inspiration for authors, poets and painters for centuries, with even the Beatles taking note, writing the bulk of “The White Album” in Rishikesh on their spiritual retreat.
For the third year running, Gallery 5 is hosting “Mother India.” Musician and Gallery 5’s board chairman, Prabir Mehta, says inspiration came from the fact that the Indian community feels very underrepresented in the arts in this country.
“As an immigrant, I found it extremely difficult, if not totally impossible most times, to find kids my age who had parents encouraging them to explore the arts,” he recalls. “As I went through the public-school system and even college, I still found very few Indian people interested in music and art.”
“Mother India” kicked off Sept. 3 with an opening featuring Vedic shlokas and blessings for the audience, live music by the Prabir Trio and a Bollywood Night dance party with DJ Carl. Events continue throughout the month as the show, which features local, national and international artists working in photography, video, ceramic and tapestry, remains on exhibit. Dean Whitlock, a local portrait photographer, will be taking photos of guests at the event set against a colorful sari fabric backdrop. Local photographer
“As a musician, it's impossible for me to think of '60s music without the influence of India,” Mehta says. “Anyone who's read Kipling or a multitude of other authors obsessed with India will recognize the impact of India on western literature. Yoga and meditation, while not considered traditional art, have made huge impacts on Western society as these ancient practices were blended with music and visual accompaniment.”
Programming for “Mother India” will include a concert Sept. 11 of carnatic flute and tabla by Raman Kalyan, an award-winning musician who has taught at VCU. Mehta explains Carnatic music as a regional flavor or music. “The southern Indian offerings of music include carnatic traditional music,” he explains. “Carnatic music is usually played in small ensembles revolving around a lead melodic instrument and supported by rhythmic layers created by one or two other instruments.”
Two Indian cooks will lead a cooking workshop on Sept. 24, sharing recipes and tips for making Bhaji Pav and pilau rice, with each dish paired with a cocktail from Gallery 5’s bar. Ticketholders will get a cooking lesson, an opportunity to ask questions, food tastings and a chance to pick up Indian spices for their own kitchens.
The Line Within will be Gallery5's first attempt at combining art, music, and yoga. Led by Kat McCroy of 3S Yoga Studios in Church Hill, the Sept. 25 event will involve a segment where participants will draw with their eyes closed, a compelling exercise in linking the mind and body while removing the distraction of sight. A meditation segment provides a chance to reach for a calm and peaceful experience in the mind. Yoga will be used to help stretch the body and become more comfortable with its own abilities, whether beginner or advanced. A soundtrack of calming live Indian scales will be performed to accompany the practice, with a post-meditation mimosa to cap off the experience.
A plant party on Sept. 25 will provide a look at a popular and useful flower found in India, the marigold. Among its many uses, it creates a gorgeously vivid yellow dye that will allow participants to create a custom-dyed cotton piece and samples for future dyeing endeavors. India-themed cocktail and snacks will of course be offered as part of the ticket price.
India’s perseverance has been a motivating force for Mehta in planning the exhibit. He points to how India has had many other cultures force their way into occupation, only to have Indians accept them, blend the cultures together, and come out it as the world's largest democracy.
“I'm not sure if our art show goes that deeply into it, but that's certainly a driving force in why the notion of India matters so much to me,” he admits. “Not just because I'm from there, but because of what that subcontinent and its people have done with every hand they’ve been dealt.” Mother India, forever fusing the ancient and modern together.
Mehta’s hope is that these events will inspire not only Indian citizens to get involved with the arts, but for others to understand that the Indian community is just as diverse and artistic as any other. “These shows, while having a noticeably different look and feel, ultimately highlight how we are indeed all the same,” he says. “We all love food, art, music, and community, just slightly different flavors and melodies here and there.”
“Mother India” runs all month at Gallery 5, 200 W. Marshall St., free. Tickets for individual events available at gallery5arts.org