SALTAF 2011: Pushing Boundaries of Arts and Society
By Pawan Dhingra, HomeSpun Curator
Arguably, the goal of the arts is less to entertain or educate than to bring the dramatic into our everyday lives. The 11th annual South Asian Literary and Theater Arts Festival (SALTAF) accomplished all three by tackling these sensitive topics:
- The impact of war on children
- Indian-Pakistan relations
- Women’s role in high-power professions
- Colonialism and imperialism
- Feminist determination for self expression
Rather than a history lesson, each topic was relayed within the context of family and personal struggle. Nor was it only the artists who challenged how we think. The audience asked probing questions on the political future of South Asia, how South Asian American arts are packaged and read by mainstream audiences, and how individual artists’ personally related to their subject matter. The public give-and-take on such controversial topics stood out as a strength of the day.
This same strength continued at the Embassy of India that evening. Standing in the center of the Embassy, Ambassador Rao spoke forcefully of the cultural and social links across South Asian countries that should be the basis of a political re-thinking of South Asian relations. And like the authors, she drew from personal experience to draw in the audience. South Asian American, rather than only Indian American or Pakistani American or Sri Lankan American, should also constitute how we understand ourselves. In fact, diversity was an unspoken theme throughout the night: diversity of ethnicity and region, of gender and sexuality, of political beliefs, and more.
HomeSpun is representing the Indian American community in its diversity. The permanent collection, for instance, has objects from grassroots organizations, the IT industry, and the path-breaking politician Dalip Singh Saund. The exhibition tied to HomeSpun, Speaking Up: Asian Indian Americans Shape the Nation, also will represent Indian Americans’ contributions to literature and the arts.