tajender sagoo director and curator of popsamiti, studied textiles and specialised in weaving at Central St Martins School of Art, London. Her practice involves textiles in a multi disciplinary approach and she has a strong interest in craft,pattern, and colour. She investigates the relationships between objects and the ideas that they express, in the historical and modern experience.
diana ali assistant Curator
Diana, born in Manchester to Bangladeshi parents, is a visual artist and independent curator. Her current research explores correspondence, dialogue and connectivity through instructional methods to global participants and, in turn, this extends to using curatorial strategies as an arts practice. She has exhibited as part of the Roaming Biennial in Tehran; Other Asia’s exhibition ‘ReDo Pakistan’ in Karachi, Pakistan, and in The Disarmory Newspaper, New York. Recently she has curated ‘Subversive Correspondence’, a touring exhibition in Bristol and London.
FEATURED ARTICLE from Popsamiti paper
Global culture: Western culture is not the culture of everyone
By Marcus Richards
Asia within the next twenty years will dominate the global economy. Some economists are even predicting this inevitable shift eastward will happen within a matter of years not decades. This is largely due to the current global financial and economic crisis. But will Asia be able to rule herself culturally or will it simply be dominated by western values.
There is a long list of problems facing India and her neighbours including farmers committing suicide, child labour, and endemic political and social violence across all societies. The picture is even more depressing when you take into account the income and wealth inequalities that disfigure so many Asian people’s lives. But this piece isn’t about contemporary issues instead it is about the future and how the influence of foreign culture could affect these societies in a big way. Why pick on Asia and not Africa or Latin America? The simple answer is that South Asia compared to South America and Africa is much more of a whole due to the dominance of Britain within her story. Also India before partition led the colonised world into independence and thus it holds a treasured place within the global south movement. If 1.9bn South Asians can resist the forthcoming culture wars with the west then the rest of the poor world has a fighting chance.
J. P. Lederach’s definition of culture is worth reminding ourselves of here, "Culture is the shared knowledge and schemes created by a set of people for perceiving, interpreting, expressing, and responding to the social realities around themî.
At the moment, the west is preoccupied with its own survival as its financial sector rocked the capitalist system to its very core. But when the dust settles, the west will realise just what a mess it is in. US/EU and their white dominions don’t produce anything that the poor world can’t manufacture for itself except maybe mega airplanes, advanced military hardware and some highly specialised medical equipment. What the west produces in abundance is cultural products, services and values. It needs access to Asia’s growing markets in order to generate export dollars to pay for the physical imports from the poor world. There is more perceived value in knowledge based or weightless services in the new economic models than in physical products or the old economic system. So it’s no surprise that the west has dumped the dirty industries in the east and kept hold of the high-income earning sectors. This unequal situation can only persist if the west can convince the east that the US/EU have superior cultural heritage and hence a higher mental capacity for knowledge based industries.
The white world has already entered what Alvin and Heidi Toffler have coined the ‘Third Wave economy’. In their book Creating A New Civilization: the politics of the Third Wave, the new wave economy includes a heavy reliance on knowledge. This can broadly be defined as data, information, images, symbols, culture, ideology, and values. Contrast that with the Second Wave type economies, which are characterised as being dependent on heavy industry, brutish labour conditions, dirty environments and low wages. These two different economic models pretty much describe the first world and the poor world. But in order for US/EU to succeed, they need the majority world. Western firms have to try and create or change the tastes, habits and preferences of Asia and the best way to do that is through influencing the Asian middle classes. The British have been doing this for a long time. Selling dead white authors to African governments so school children can appreciate British values, norms and customs, which is a key way of ensuring support for the UK in Africa. It’s never too early to shape and cultivate the minds of the young, especially children of the rich and politically connected. The Americans also believe in influencing other societies. The Bush Administration started to directly fund TV channels, newspapers and radio stations in Iraq after the 2003 invasion.
The west seems to be warming to its 21st century paternalism. France has launched a 24 hour global news channel in English and the new Obama Administration is planning more cultural diplomacy.
At Hillary Clinton’s confirmation hearing to become the new secretary of state, she argued for a greater use of ‘smart power’ including culture. She cites the example of Nigeria. The US and the west have been literally raping Nigeria of its oil resources. But Nigerians still backs the US in whatever it does. Why? The influence of American culture is extremely strong in Africa’s largest nation.
We have underestimated the importance of culture to humankind. New research around memes is giving biologists greater insight into what makes us human but in the political and cultural arena the debate around culture hasn’t even begun. Culture is too important to be left outside of economics, politics and global trade. We need a whole new breed of cultural activists to protect and champion home-grown culture.
West Orientated Gentlemen and women (the internationally educated middle classes of Asia) are the key group used by the west to transmit and interpret western culture back to the ill-educated ‘masses’. Thomas Babington Macaulay, the infamous 19th century British administrator in India talked about how colonial rule could endure through encouraging educated Indians to control the masses through spreading British culture to the poor. Macaulay wrote, ìIt is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature.
WOGs wander around their motherland as if they possess some kind of special knowledge or embody the very notion of modernity that the masses do not. Traditional ways of doing things, even if they might be right, are seen as backward and thus rejected in favour of western culture. This new modernity includes everything non-Asian like shopping malls, IT jobs, and gated communities. They use popular culture like music, TV, books, films, advertising, fashion, food, and language to turn the Asian masses into a shabby version of the urban poor in the west. It is the responsibility of cultural activists who refuse to buy into this type of modernity to fight back. These New Expressionists need to work on national and cross-border cultural activities based on the best of South Asian culture and then use that to take on the west’s carefully constructed cultural offer.
If South Asia cannot defeat the coming global cultural conflict with the west then the majority world will face decades of being in the queue behind the white world. The poor will remain fixed in a brutal economy and culture not of their making.
What can we do from here? We need to first appreciate the fact that culture has the power to shape ideas, and influence people’s lives. And secondly we need to start an urgent dialogue with cultural activists around the poor world in order to establish new institutions that promotes the culture of everyone and not the culture of the west.
According to UN projections by 2025 the population of South Asia* will be an estimated 1.9 bn.
How will this massive population explosion define us as South Asians? What do we have to say? What will be the response of artists, writers, activists and thinkers to this phenomenon? What narratives will emerge and who will define them? What will be the impact on the lives of the South Asians overseas.
Popsamiti is a project curated by Tajender Sagoo. It is a platform for artists and writers to explore themes in art and culture with the aim to forge new narratives for the 21st century. A multi disciplinary project, popsamiti is a print publication, a pdf download,a website, and a debate and took place in 2009.
Popsamiti is an attempt to move beyond being defined by post colonialism. In short, the aim is to create space for the culture of everyone.
Popsamiti is a not for profit project.
*For this project South Asia includes, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan and the Maldives.
**UN World Population Prospects; The 2008 Revision
Motherland Pop TALK
Wednesday 19 August 09; to launch popsamiti paper we held a debate at Borders bookshop in Charing Cross, London. Titled 'Debating South Asian Arts and Culture'. It was a packed house and thank you to everyone who came.
On the panel were Dr Kishore Budha, Parminder Vir and Parmjit Singh.