Thursday 25 September 2014


The Quai Branly Museum in Paris is presenting another sure-to-be blockbuster exhibition titled Mayas: Révélation d'un temps sans fin (Maya: Revelation of an endless time), beginning Oct. 7 and ending next February.

Produced in Mexico, the show focuses on the civilization created by the Maya peoples of the pre-Columbian era, and allows visitors to appreciate their “legacy to humanity”.

“They have left to posterity dozens of cities with striking architecture, a range of technically perfect sculpture, numerous frescoes and ceramic vases, and a detailed record of their religious beliefs, their rituals, their community life, their habits and their history,” say the curators.

Done thematically - and covering the relationship to nature, the power of cities, funeral rites - the show features various aspects of this culture and its “creative genius”, without omitting the bloody tradition of human sacrifice.

The exhibition seeks to give both a general overview and to show the variety of styles and aesthetic achievements of the different Maya groups, each with their own language and their own forms of expression, according to the museum, which features collections of objects from the indigenous civilizations of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.

Often criticized as having ”colonial undertones” or “regressive tendencies”, the Quai Branly has been working with countries and national institutions to give an appropriate presentation of their collections. 

This exhibition was conceived and first shown by Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH), highlighting the fact that the Maya originated in the Yucatán more than four millennia ago and saw their civilization rise to great heights in present-day southern Mexico, Guatemala and other areas.

Tuesday 16 September 2014


The second edition of Écrivains du Monde (World Writers Festival) is featuring Indian authors in a range of discussions and events in Paris, France, this month.

Kirin Desai
(Photo by Annette Hornischer)
Taking place Sept. 17 - 21, this annual “celebration of world literature” brings together renowned writers such as Kiran Desai, Vikram Chandra and Amit Chaudhuri, alongside new voices, to talk about their work, globalization, language and politics, and other issues.

Organized by New York’s Columbia University and Paris’ Bibliothèque national de France (national library),  the festival decided to put the spotlight on India since one of Columbia’s Global Centers in located in the country, said festival director Caro Llewellyn.

“Last year, the festival was international, and this year we decided to focus on one of the countries where we have a Global Centre,” Llewellyn told SWAN. “There will be a lot of new names which I think is very exciting. We’re bringing writers that people may not have heard of, but that will change after this festival.”

Écrivains du Monde is the brainchild of Paul LeClerc, the director of Columbia Global Centers | Europe, which is known for organizing interesting symposiums on global and cultural issues. The festival partnered with a magazine in India and ran a competition to find emerging writers, five of whom will join masters students from Columbia University for “cross-cultural dialogue” and interaction.

Events begin Wednesday with a talk on Exile and Homecoming, to be held at Paris’ École Normale Supérieure, with novelist, poet, critic and academic Chaudhuri.

Amit Chaudhuri (Photo by Geoff Pugh)
The author of Clearing a Space: Reflections on India, Literature, and Culture will discuss his “impatience … with certain narratives (about India, Indian literature, modernity and modernism, etc.) and the way they compartmentalise" certain creative exploration, according to the festival organizers.

In conversation with Laetitia Zecchini, a researcher, translator and scholar of modern Indian literature, Chaudhuri will examine the “spaces he wants to clear; the way he himself navigates between different worlds and genres; the tensions of belonging; the singularity of his creative and critical writing, and his memoir Calcutta, Two Years in the City,” the organizers added.

Chaudhuri will also host a concert of This Is Not Fusion, a project in experimental music that he founded and which brings together genres including jazz, blues, and rock, with Indian raga.

The festival’s other events include an evening of readings in Bengali, Hindi, Tamil, and English as part of The Many Voices of India. This “show” features  acclaimed Indian authors based in India, Britain, and the United States: Booker Prize-winner Desai; poets and novelists Jeet Thayil and Uday Prakash; novelists Chandra, Indra Sinha, Shumona Sinha, and Akhil Sharma, and the celebrated Tamil poet Salma.

Part of the poster for the festival.
A 2013 documentary about Salma, by Kim Longinotto, will be screened, followed by a discussion with the poet. The film is about Salma’s life as a young girl in a south Indian village who was locked up for years beginning when she was 13 years old. Her family forbade her to study and forced her into marriage.

“During that time, words were Salma’s salvation,” according to Écrivains du Monde. “She began covertly composing poems on scraps of paper and, through an intricate system, was able to sneak them out of the house, eventually getting them into the hands of a publisher. Against the odds, Salma became one of the most famous Tamil poets today, discovered her own freedom and challenged the traditions and codes of conduct in her village.”

Sunday 7 September 2014


Artists from two community groups in South Africa have for decades been using needle and thread to express views on issues affecting life in their country, and capturing history with the art of embroidery in the process.

Now the public has a chance to share these portrayals through an exhibition at the Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), from Sept. 7 to Dec 7.

Embroidered textile, designed by artist Calvin Mahlauli.
(Photo: Don Cole, Courtesy of the Fowler Museum)
Under the title Bearing Witness: Embroidery as History in Post-Apartheid South Africa, the show comprises a selection of what the museum calls “fantastically-hued pictorial embroideries”. They were all produced around 2000, six years after the official dismantling of apartheid.

The artists (who hail from The Mapula Embroidery Project, founded in 1991 in the Winterveldt area outside Pretoria, and Kaross Workers, founded in 1989 on a citrus farm in Limpopo Province) portray historical events as well as their own personal experiences in remarkable stitch-work.

The objects “reveal the deeply political imaginations that have inspired them”, according to Gemma Rodrigues, Curator of African Arts at the Fowler Museum.

Among the topics covered by these “lyrical yet socially engaged tableaux” are the joyous celebrations of Nelson Mandela’s 85th birthday; the questioning of traditional gender roles; the impact of HIV/AIDS and other public health issues; and current affairs and global happenings in places as distant as New York City.

Curator Gemma Rodrigues
“People, animals, trees, and buildings embroidered in lilac, green, yellow, and red - colors chosen for their tonal harmonies and sparkling contrast - populate intricate narratives that pulse with life,” states the Fowler Museum.

The institution is devoted to exploring the arts and cultures of Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and the Americas, and holds a vast collection of more than 120,000 examples of world arts, including a repository of some 20,000 textiles that “trace the history of cloth over two millennia and across five continents”.

The embroideries on display belong to a group of 45 textiles collected in South Africa by William Worger and Nancy Clark, scholars and professors of South African history at UCLA and Louisiana State University respectively.

According to the Fowler, Worger and Clark’s deep interest in South Africa’s past first attracted them to the artworks and later inspired them to make their collection available for further study and display by donating them to the Fowler Museum.

A grouping of the textiles in Fowler in Focus.Courtesy of the museum.
In conjunction with its 50th anniversary, the museum is also presenting Fowler in Focus: Yards of Style, African-Print Cloths of Ghana

This separate exhibition, which runs until Dec. 14, examines how the double-sided and factory-produced cloths convey different messages about "individual and community values, reveal perspectives on taste and fashion, and offer telling insights into the global economy”, as the curators put it.

The Fowler is part of UCLA Arts and is located in the north part of the UCLA campus. For additional information:

Tuesday 2 September 2014


With so many incidents of abuse of power taking place in the world, the African Diaspora International Film Festival is more than ever seeking to be a means of bringing people together and promoting dialogue, according to the organizers.

Diarah N'Daw-Spech and Reinalso Barro-Spech, organizers.
“This is an international festival that’s Afro-centric, but the aim is not to divide people but to promote and reshape the discourse,” says Diarah N’Daw-Spech, who co-founded the festival with her husband Reinaldo Barro-Spech.

Presented annually in New York, Washington, Chicago and Paris, the event’s fourth European edition takes place from Sept. 5 to 7 this year in the French capital, with the films aimed at generating discussion about the causes and effects of racism both in the United States and Europe.

The movies should also encourage people of African descent to discuss what being part of the Diaspora means, said N’Daw-Spech, the daughter of a Malian father and French mother, and whose husband was born in Cuba of mixed Haitian-Jamaican heritage.

“When you talk about the African Diaspora, everybody has their own understanding of what this means, although most people think of people coming from Africa,” N'Daw-Spech told SWAN. “But you can have roots in Africa without having been born there, and we want to look at the whole black experience.

An image from Freedom Summer
“It’s like opening a window on another world for people who either want to learn about themselves or who want to be exposed to others’ cultures,” she added “We see the festival as a way to create bridges across cultures, even across cultures of people of African descent.”

That is one of the reasons for the broad scope of the event. The opening film, Freedom Summer, puts the spotlight on the history of the American South, for instance, with a gripping documentary about the violence that met activists trying to encourage voter registration in Mississippi in 1964.

Director Stanley Nelson uses footage and testimony from the volunteers of the then Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to portray the injustices that occurred in the state, which “remained virulently committed to segregation” in the Sixties.

Working to advance human rights in Freedom Summer.
Many of the Committee’s members were young white students who, according to the film, were “transformed” by their work in Mississippi. Their story and the experiences of the African-Americans they supported remind viewers of the sacrifices made just 50 years ago to ensure civil rights for all.

Nelson will be available for a public discussion after the screening, as such debates are an integral part of the festival, N'Daw-Spech said.

Other films are set in countries ranging from Jamaica to Cameroon and cover a diverse range of subjects that affect the African Diaspora. From the Caribbean come two films - a dramatic feature and a documentary - about the impact of legislation in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom that allows foreign-born individuals convicted of crimes to be deported to their countries of origin.

A scene from Home Again
The deportations create enormous problems for both the home nations and the individuals, many of whom grew up abroad. In Home Again, a feature directed by Sudz Sutherland, three individuals from varying backgrounds come into conflict with this legislation. After their forced return to Jamaica, their ostensible “home” country, these characters experience a series of challenges and violent situations that test their survival skills. They end up learning much about themselves as well as their environment.

The second film dealing with this subject is Deported (Expulsés), which “gives a voice” to offenders from the United States and Canada who have been deported to Haiti after serving their prison sentence in North America. Their offences ranged from violent crime to drunk-driving and petty theft, and the film focuses on their attempts at re-integration in the country of their birth.

Directors Rachèle Magloire and Chantal Regnault construct Deported around trips in Haiti (where they followed their characters for three years) and events in North America where some families have no idea of the lives of those who have been sent back.

The deported face new challenges in  Home Again.
Discussions will also accompany the screening of Deported, and N’Daw-Spech says she hopes the festival will highlight this under-reported issue.

Another topical film is Otomo, a feature that shares a glimpse into the day-to-day world of refugees. This film reconstructs the true story of a West African asylum seeker in Stuttgart, Germany, who physically assaulted a ticket inspector on the subway, fled the scene, and became the target of a huge manhunt.

The film shows how institutionalized racism drives a disempowered individual to violence and inhumanity, according to its director Frieder Schlaich, and this subject is particularly pertinent as Europe debates how to deal with undocumented migrants and its Roma population.

Moving to the arts, the festival includes a film about music with Tango Negro. This documentary, by Angolan director Dom Pedro, “explores the expression of African-ness inherent in the dance of the ‘tango’ and the contribution of African cultures to the dance’s creation”.

Tango Negro explores the African origins of tango.
Pedro provides insight into the dance’s origins and cultural significance, depicting the social life of African slaves, and he brings together musical performances and interviews from tango enthusiasts, historians and various participants.

Other films being screened include Names Live Nowhere, a docu-drama that  gives a candid portrayal of the lives of African immigrants in Belgium; and W.A.K.A., a feature set in Douala, Cameroon, about a young waitress who becomes pregnant, has no one to turn to, and who faces the decision of whether to terminate her pregnancy or have her child.

“What we hear from viewers is that the films that we bring are works that people don’t have access to at all,” says N’Daw-Spech. “So that gives us inspiration to keep going. We’re not interested in films that don’t have a serious topic or are one-dimensional. All the films have a message.”

For more on the Paris schedule, in English, go to: The annual New York presentation of the festival  will take place in November.