July 9 kicked off Vancouver’s fifth annual Indian Summer Festival with a vibrant and glamorous opening gala at the Roundhouse Community Centre in Yaletown. In a tribute to the Roundhouse’s past, the venue was transformed into The Great Railway Food Bazaar, complete with Vikram Vij challenging fellow Vancouver chefs to create culinary dishes inspired by India’s street food. The railway station theme is the work of award-winning art director Aradhana Seth, also known for her work on Wes Anderson’s film The Darjeeling Limited.
The 10-day seasonal Vancouver festival, featuring dozens of artists in venues across the city, is produced by the Indian Summer Arts Society, a local charitable organization dedicated to creating an inclusive, diverse, and culturally-rich society. The festival accomplishes this goal by showcasing a variety of daring and inspiring public art exhibitions, literary presentations, and music events to inspire connection between communities and global citizenship around the world.
“What is really interesting about the festival is that it is rigorous but quirky,” says Sirish Rao, the festival’s artistic director. “The byline is ‘Where Worlds Meet’, but we have stopped thinking about what that really means. How do different cultures collaborate when they meet? When you collide or collaborate, it is not always easy, and I like to call that ‘good friction’. The festival is all about offering people a model of how to enter into that space where we are unafraid of striking up conversations, which can be cheerful and light, or tough and difficult.” A great example of this is 5 x 15, a speaker series that originated in London (and now happens monthly in London, Milan, and New York), where five speakers each talk for 15 unscripted minutes on a topic they are deeply passionate about. This year, the festival brings to the stage five brilliant local and international storytellers, including a writer, a restaurateur, an architect, a journalist, and an activist, to inspire audiences and catalyze meaningful dialogue.
The Taj Mahal Foxtrot (the closing event to the festival) will transport audiences back to the 1930s, when American jazz musicians met Indian artists and swing was born on the streets of India. Through rare archival photographs and videos, Naresh Fernandes, a Mumbai journalist, will tell the story of how jazz found its way to Bombay and eventually influenced Bollywood music. At the end of the evening, the audience will have the opportunity to step back in time into a vintage Bollywood party featuring DJ Anjali and DJ Goddess, both internationally recognized female South Asian DJs.
As the festival wraps up on July 18, its influence will continue to travel the streets of Vancouver through a mobile art project called Sound Horn OK Please. Orijit Sen, a renowned graphic artist, has transformed a Vancouver city bus into a moving art piece in tribute to the thousands of beautifully decorated trucks and buses which cover the streets of India. Sen combines the energy and vibrancy of truck art with his own graphic novelist’s whimsy to bring India to the streets of Vancouver until August 1. “The festival is driven by a wish to see a world where we could shape it together, if we are willing,” says Sirish Rao. “There could be a lot to despair about if you let yourself. So then, what then do you do? Do you complain? Do you create? I believe you fight for what you believe in and then create it together.”