Dance students perform a Bharatnatyam dance under the tutelage of Aayurshi Neeraj in New Delhi. Photo: AFP / Chandan Khanna
Dance students perform a Bharatnatyam dance under the tutelage of Aayurshi Neeraj in New Delhi. Photo: AFP / Chandan Khanna

In a statement published last night, the British Library announced their plans for the 2017 UK-India Year of Culture, a year-long program of events to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Indian independence and the chance for both countries to highlight their national creativity on a global stage.

The British Library — which bears the impressive accolade of the world’s largest — counts more than 150 million items in its collection, including books, maps, manuscripts and sound recordings. Among these, a copy of William Shakespeare’s First Folio once owned by George III, will go on display at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) museum in Mumbai in January 2017. Published seven years after his death in 1616, the 1,000 page document is the first collected edition of The Bard’s plays. The display in Mumbai will mark its first ever public presentation outside the UK.

Additionally, The British Library will team up with the Jaipur Literature Festival to host a series of events in both Jaipur and London in January and May 2017, including a loan of the Magna Carta 1225 edition. The initiative will build upon the Library’s wider aim to work more closely with sister institutions in India, and the digitization of their extensive South-Asian collections.

Title page, Shakespeare’s First Folio, London 1623. Image copyright the British Library Board.

In partnership with the British Council and the Government of India, the wider program for 2017 aims to incorporate innovative and exciting work from both countries that, according to the British Council, “[will explore] our joint history: people will want to know more about each other’s countries and build deeper connections.” The initiative will span cities, cultures and disciplines, from music and theater, to art and design, to performing arts and film.

Whilst the finer details of the program are yet to be announced, known highlights currently include Manchester’s Reimagine India series featuring a major exhibition by Raqs Media Collective, a newly commissioned performance installation by Nikhil Chopra; a dedicated show by Neha Choksi at Manchester Art Gallery (subsequently travelling to Project 88 in Mumbai in 2018); a solo exhibition for Reena Kallat; and a film commission for Manchester Art Gallery by British Asian artist Hetain Patel, which will then tour to the Sunaparanta Centre, Goa.

Similar cultural exchanges in previous years have seen the UK pair up with China (2015) and Russia (2014), often with unprecedented levels of public engagement in both partnering countries. According to GOV.UK, British Indians represent the largest ethnic group in Britain (1.5 million people) and tourism from both sides has reached record-breaking highs in recent times. With this extended creative dialogue planned for next year, it is the hope that 2017 will be a rich and rewarding one for the cultural industries in the UK and India.

Sarah Reeve

Sarah Reeve is a writer and curator based in London, United Kingdom. After gaining her Master's degree in History of Art at University College London, she pursued a career in contemporary art. Sarah currently works at Halcyon Gallery, where she has assisted in the curation of multiple exhibitions and contributed to several gallery publications.

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