Five Rivers to Five Boroughs

bhangraagainstbush.jpgI’ve been obsessed lately with political posters. Particularly artwork depicting struggles of the Desi diaspora. So obsessed that I created Mutinous Mindstate on tumblr to curate the various important images and artwork I’ve come across over the years. In fact, it was DJ Rekha that first responded to my tweet asking for Desi political art with an image of PardonMyHIndi designed event poster for Basement Bhangra Against Bush in 2004.

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Along very similar vein, DJ Rekha is also involved with an art show that premiered in New York City this month at 92YTribeca. The Soho Road to Punjab is an exhibit inspired by bhangra music and has exhibited overseas in the UK over the past few years. This NYC-angled exhibit, title Five Rivers to Five Boroughs, is the first time the exhibit will be shown in the U.S.

The exhibit will showcase behind-the-scenes photography, album sleeves, promotional art, and rare prints from South Asian media. The exhibit also highlights individuals who have helped the Bhangra scene progress.

The exhibit’s story refers to the impact New York has had on the spread of Bhangra. Brooklyn-based DJ Rekha, a musician and curator, named Ambassador of Bhangra by the New York Times, shares her personal collection of material for the New York version of this project. [facebook] Continue reading

February 11

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I couldn’t have been alone in this, but it was only after the news of Mubarak’s departure that I watched for the first time the video of Asmaa Mahfouz making her appeal for the gathering that became the protest action of January 25. That video, when posted on Facebook, became a rallying cry. As I learned a bit later from this interview with Mahfouz, January 25 was chosen because it is observed as Police Day in Egypt, and she was interested not in honoring the police but in pointing out that they were the arm of oppression. In the video you see this twenty-five-year-old woman speaking with great anguish of the three Egyptian men who had set themselves on fire to protest. It is humbling, and so wonderfully inspiring, to realize that such a tumultuous movement, one that has moved the entire world, could have had such small beginnings. Continue reading

Bronzes at the Chennai Museum

The Government Museum in Chennai has an amazing collection of bronzes from around what is present day Tamil Nadu.

Here are some photos from my visit there last month. Click on any of them for a larger version on Flickr. Despite the sad condition of the displays – dust-covered and poorly lit – the wonder and detail of the craft and work is still easily visible.

This is a Nataraja from Vellore, circa 19th century:

Vellore Nataraja I

Vellore Nataraja III

The hair of other Natarajas I’ve seen until now have resembled the one above: a ring attached to the back of the head out of which locks of hair emerge. This next one, however (my favorite of the lot), has hair that is very much part of Siva’s head. It’s from Melaperamballam in Thanjavur, circa 10th Century AD.

Melaperamballam Nataraja III

Melaperamballam Nataraja I

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Obama, The Destroyer of the World [updated]


Here we go again. And by that I’m referring to the Ms. 2009 cover depicting a multi-armed mom. This time, it’s an image of President Obama. Newsweek’s November 22nd, 2010 issue headlined “God of All Things” shows Obama on the cover balancing multiple policy issues and balancing on one leg. The image is of Hindu deity, Shiva, also know as “the destroyer of the world.”

Suhag Shukla of the Washington-based Hindu-American Foundation told FoxNews that her group doesn’t think Newsweek meant to be malicious, but believes ‘the cover was in line with the media’s comfort of utilizing Hindu symbols or deities to symbolize an issue.’

Zed said that Hindus understood that the purpose of Newsweek was not to denigrate Hinduism, but warned casual flirting like this sometimes resulted in pillaging serious spiritual doctrines and revered symbols and hurting the devotees.[dailymail]

In the rest of the world, Hindus are outraged. Continue reading

Drawing a Line to Your Heart

summernight.jpgBy now you must have noticed the newest art banners adorning Sepia Mutiny. They are the creations of Nidhi Chanani, an illustrator and designer living in San Francisco. The first time I spotted one of these scenes at the top of the page it captivated me with cuteness, and I kept clicking to reload the page and see all of them.

I continued clicking on over to her website, and with each view the charming characters populating her illustrations–often smiling, sometimes pensive, but always sweet–quickly worked their way into my heart. I checked in with Chanani to find out more about her and her work. Keep reading to learn what inspires her, which illustration is a favorite, and the details of her award-winning recipe for mattar paneer. Continue reading

Posted in Art

Talking About Terror


[Amitava Kumar and Lorraine Adams will be in conversation today, August 27, at 6.30 PM at the Aicon Gallery in New York City. Admission is free.]

I have just received a letter from a man in prison. His name is Hemant Lakhani. Lakhani was a women’s clothing salesman who, in 2005, was convicted of selling an Igla missile to an FBI informant posing as a member of a jihadist organization.

Lakhani is one of the people I write about in my new book A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm A Tiny Bomb. He learned about the book’s publication by reading a review in the New York Times.

Mr. Lakhani writes to congratulate me but also to invite me back. There is more to tell, he writes. If I listen to his story, and write about it, he promises me that the book will be a bestseller. I will be interviewed by the mainstream press, including Charlie Ross (sic).

The Times review had also mentioned that I had visited a strip-club outside the Missouri high-security prison where Lakhani is incarcerated. I had a conversation there with a dancer about the man I had come to meet in Missouri. This didn’t sit well with Mr Lakhani and he writes in his letter that I must promise him that I will not go back to the strip-club again. Continue reading

Five Reels Later

96a8f5d0.jpg The media event today was Amardeep’s saying goodbye to Sepia Mutiny. Why, Amardeep, why? And why did you have to make your intelligent commentary on my novel your swan-song? menu_unda_chicken.jpg Have you read the comments section? What happened to the discussion of the point you had made, for instance, about provincial cosmopolitanisms? Talking of swan songs, you could perhaps have done this. Much better, nahin?. A friend ate a kati roll today and told me I should point this out in the comments section myself. Continue reading

Tuna Princess


Tuna Princess by Daisy Rockwell

**Mohamed Mahmood Alessa was arrested with his friend (and co-conspirator) on the way to join a militant group in Somalia. His mother has said that he wanted to take his cat, Tuna Princess, with him, but she did not allow it and they argued. **

Acrylic on wooden panel, 14″ x 14″

I haven’t unpacked my bags yet. Just yesterday I was in North Adams, Massachusetts, where I had driven on Thursday to attend the opening of Rasgulla, Daisy Rockwell’s art-show. (Daisy is a wonderful artist whose work I hadn’t known about till only a few months ago; I have met her since, and regard her as a close friend.) The exhibition in North Adams of Diasy’s paintings draws upon the idea of what Sanskrit aestheticians called “rasas,” the nine perfected moods, distillations of human emotions into a pure form. An important part of the exhibition is Daisy’s exploration of “political rasas,” her attempt to take fleeting news-images of public figures and turn them into physical objects. You see the painting of the Ayatollah in a purple forest; Barack Obama as a boy, standing on the tarmac with his father’s arms around him; Sarah Palin, wearing red shoes, sitting on a sofa, surrounded by dead animals. For me, the greatest interest lay in Daisy’s paintings of those accused of terrorist acts. I have long held that many of the writers and artists working in the aftermath of 9/11 have presented a faux familiarity with the so-called terrorist mind. Daisy’s art makes no such claims. It returns us to what is real–and therefore surprising–about human lives. She has painted portraits of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, and there must be some bravery involved in putting these up on the walls of a gallery, but what Daisy is especially good at is painting those one would call ordinary terrorists. These are people who might be behind bars but in the paintings emerge as individuals, as individuals who are neither particularly heroic nor particularly villainous. This isn’t what DeLillo was writing about in a story that invoked Gerhard Richter–this isn’t about a viewer seeing that even terrorists can be forgiven. There is too much irony in Daisy’s paintings, and often, also glitter. There is ambiguity, perhaps, and more than that, a plain sense of attention. It is as if in an effort to find more about the world in which we are living, a world where the war on terror is a fact, the artist has finally found a human face.

But the state lacks all subtlety. Earlier this evening, I read that a six-year-old girl from Ohio, Alyssa Thomas, has been put on a “no-fly” list. Her father, Santhosh Thomas, a doctor, has readily admitted that Alyssa has probably been mean to her sister in the past. And added, “She may have threatened her sister, but I don’t think that constitutes Homeland Security triggers.” I think Daisy should paint the portrait of this little terrorist.
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Let’s Fly First Class


Objects are like people: they can tell you where they come from. I count objects that look desi. Look at the plane above. You have probably seen that art on trucks in places like Lahore or Ludhiana. It might be two in the afternoon. It is hot and dry around you, the man selling sugarcane juice is sleeping in the shade of a tree, and there’s no one else around. Your shadow is the smallest you’ve ever seen in your life. And then a truck comes to a stop beside you. The exhaust pours out as if from a chimney in a brick kiln. If you look past it, however, you see painted on the side of the truck, a landscape that includes snowy peaks, colorful huts, cool skies, fields brimming with flowers that will live longer even than plastic. Folk utopia!

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Artwallah’s Afterlife – June 18 to June 20th

artwallah_logo_w-on-b.jpg For Southern Californians who are making plans for the weekend – you should know, there has been a revival. Artwallah is back and though it is not as grandiose as the weekend long festival of yester years, the line-up this year seems pretty boss. It is the tenth anniversary festival, and long time Los Angeles residents will remember what an iconic event this festival once used to be.

North America’s decade-old, internationally renowned arts festival of the South Asian diaspora will present the freshest Cultural-Art-Collision on June 18th to 20th 2010 at the venerable Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica.

> Co-presented by The South Asian Artists Collective and Highways, the tenth anniversary festival celebrates the theme of “Afterlife” with a presentation of original artist collaborations and multi-disciplinary performance – and an engaging children’s program for families. Tickets are now available online at or via the Highways box office at 310-315-1459.[[artwallah](] Artists on the line-up The Pieces, [MadGuru's screening of Gul](, a dance piece by [Shyamala Moorty](, comedic songs by[ Rasika Mathur](, reading by Shilpa Agarwal (Haunting Bombay), and many, many more. There is also a gallery exhibit featuring “Thums Up N Up”, an installation by Yatin Parkhani. And on Sunday, there’s a children’s program with a yoga/comedy improv class and bhangra dance class. There’s a little bit of something, for everyone. Abhi and I will both be making it out to this amazing event. I hope you’ll be able to make it too, L.A.! Continue reading