I have been travelling now for many years, to many countries across the globe. In 1982 when it all started with my first hop over to London as a student, I was gob smacked (excuse me borrowing some British slang!) with the ill-informed perceptions regarding Asia and India. That people from these regions are scattered (quite liberally I may add), into the worlds population, making for languages of these regions to become credited as main languages of some countries (i.e Bengali in America); one then wonders how the skewered perceptions on socio-cultural areas still exist without much change over the last 25 odd years!
In America, Surendran and I are regularly subjected to the most appalling assumptions based on ignorance, which leaves us slowly counting to ten under our breath. We are often caught in the midst of conversations that are geared to assumptions from arranged marriages being the only norm to ideas borrowed from slum dog millionaire that have all of Indian poverty covered in sewage, that leave no space for the nuanced and for the liberal and/or intellectual to be grasped. As is always the case of many westerners who have travelled to India, they carry back haversack dreams of snake charmers and Indian band baja, as the staple memory of this complex nation. Where contemporary India fits into this (to which I belong), is anyones guess, because all we really are expected to be are the ambassadors of the Mahabharata and other grand epics and exotic Indian rituals!
As an artist I begin to also question the ability of cross-cultural discourses of relevance within such ignorance, because everything remains so superficial at the end of it all. There is no truthful curiosity that leads to common places of belonging. There are many spaces of deja vu that I encounter that are connected to a blinkered thinking that leaves no room for assimilation. I am also amused as an artist at the political correctness that prevails which shuts out the potential of genuine introspection.
I have never been a nationalist without the edge of a critique who merely desires to pretty-up all things of my country like a mindless anthem of praise; yet I equally begin to fume at the distorted versions of representations that describe my homeland to me (!) by those who know so little of its socio-cultural labyrinth; and which hold no image of who I am within it. I have always believed that it is essential to cultivate a genuine interest in others, for the pure delight of learning. But too often this is palpably absent when I travel in North America. You are told about your self (!), and/or you receive rhetoric questions; and anytime you attempt to answer something seriously - and if it's not delivered as a sound byte:a one liner that conforms to placing it as black or white- then forget it! The attention span to examine in depth doesn't generally exist, and the superficial interest pops like a soap bubble, leaving a vacuous space of nothingness!
As a teacher I put a great deal of emphasis on art students learning to be open people; who can then define who they are from spaces of exposure. To learn to filter and receive. It is interesting to be currently located in suburban America. In contrast, the awareness and information that people in Indian villages choose to posses about life and the world is much more astute than what one encounter over here. I'm not being a proud nationalist....I'm just being dead honest!