Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How the Western thought process begins to affect Bharatanatyam

Continued from my globalization killing off art and culture post...lol. Yes, I do recognize my flair for the overdramatic.

Just as industrialization began to wipe out the natural world at alarming rates, killing species every day, globalization and cultural hegemony seem to do the same for culture and art.

Cultural hegemony was, and has always been happening. Along with it, art and ritual and customs disappear, but usually at a slow enough rate that there is an acknowledgement and reversal; or preservation of rituals that are being affected.

So is it just natural change or something to be really worried about?

In the scientific process, the starting point are the underlying facts of the situation: in this case, that change within art – ritual – natya (theater, dance, music, etc) – however you choose to note its existence – is as sure as death within the human race. Change in and of itself is not bad. But removal and loss without thought or proper prerogative is. The question then transforms: what change is natural and thought out, what is forced and thus undesirable?

If you look at the example provided by the age of industrialization - you see a forced change within the world that has been created by a rapid demolition without knowledge or second thought with no method of retrieval and re-establishment in a satisfying way. So does change due to cultural hegemony belong under “natural” change or “forced” change?

For instance, I attended a lecture with Elizabeth Sackler that brought to light examples of this phenomena exactly. Eager to display Native American culture and show America’s love of their work museums would put Native American ritual masks under glass displays. The unfortunate part of all this was that it was a violation of the masks’ use and thus of Native American belief systems which put the Western world right back at square one: disrespecting minority cultures allowing America to show just how unequal “the other” is.

A good example of a more natural (though not necessarily more harmonious) cultural hegemony is when the Mughals came to India. Though the Mughals were the rulers they melded their arts with ours to create such wonders as the Taj Mahal, and the North Indian dance form Kathak, which coexisted with other forms such as Odissi and Bharatanatyam and hundreds of other regional variations of what was considered to be classical dance, none better than the other, and all giving itself up to some way of spiritual enlightenment and social/community construction. Even better is that you don't hear very much research here on how dancers were upset about this change (I wonder if it's just not recorded...)

Oftentimes, neither the culture in power nor the culture playing into it realizes it is happening...in a culture’s eagerness to show respect and equality America, England, and other Western countries still force the “other” to fit into their forms and expectations. The result is simple: a power play.

On the other side of the coin, there is the idea that minority cultures should not be so upset with Americans, for it is part of the Western way and culture to act in this manner. If the Western culture were endangered, perhaps minorities would not be so difficult about these points. It is still important to note, however, that it is only within the Western world that countries feel entitled to take that which is not theirs to examine, document, notate and use as they please. Indians cannot come to America, remove the Liberty Bell, and stick it in one of their museums - but England is allowed to take the crown jewels of South Asia and put them on display in museums for "preservation". So, until perhaps India can do that - or England gives back those crown jewels...well, we seem to be stuck in a role where cultural hegemony is bound to happen. And one where we must question changes with a critical eye until that power play is equal...and pluralism is restored.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Questions of Cultural Hegemony in Indian Classical Dance

In this globalizing world, how does cultural hegemony change the art we see around us?

For those who don't know, hegemony itself is as the *infallible* Wikipedia defines it:

"Hegemony is the political, economic, ideological or cultural power exerted by a dominant group over other groups, regardless of the explicit consent of the latter...The term is often mistakenly used to suggest brute power or dominance, when it is better defined as emphasizing how control is achieved through consensus not force."

There are two things of import to me in this definition: one, that it is about the control of one group over another, and two, that this control is gained quite subversively...

And here is what I am constantly wondering in terms of how cultural hegemony has come to play in Indian Classical Dance culture:

Westerners, eager to preserve and protect culture, end up changing it in ways they never realize – from the simplest of moves such as where an art form is displayed and/or performed to radically changing the use and utilization of a piece of art. How, in turn, do these changes also change the effect of these forms?

Perhaps even more noteworthy is that many artists are unaware it is happening as they change and adjust their work to become more accessible to the world around them in the face of extinction or irrelevance.

Cultural hegemony also plays a role in valuation of art. As art has gone the way of the Western world and dissociated itself with ritual, art has become entertainment rather than spiritual for many. Art does reflect society and vice versa, but again, it must be considered: what is lost in this shift?

Also, are the effects of a traditional form like bharatanatyam, initially danced in temples and watched with complete social interactions, diminished by its transition to the proscenium stage and change to group choreography? Though art will always change because of the world around it, globalization seems to speed it up with such coldness. The speed is a a result of a rush to preserve and protect in order to overcome extinction, resulting in both the minority and majority frantically changing forms and artistic visions in simple ways to keep them relevant to the persons in power…