International Workshop on The Politics Of ‘Doing Culture’ Entangled India and the German Democratic Republic during the Cold War


Dates: Decem­ber 21–22.12.2018.

Loca­tion: Depart­ment of South Asian Stud­ies, Insti­tute for Asian and African Stud­ies, Hum­boldt-Uni­ver­sität zu Berlin.
Invali­den­strasse 118, 10115 Berlin
II Floor, Room 217

Introduction:

The Ger­man Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic (GDR) was offi­cial­ly rec­og­nized by the Indi­an state in 1972. In the absence of offi­cial diplo­mat­ic rela­tions pri­or to recog­ni­tion, how­ev­er, the Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tions, estab­lished in 1956, became the ‘offi­cial mouth­piece’ of the GDR in India. Almost par­al­lel to the increas­ing role played by the Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tions in fur­ther­ing polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic and cul­tur­al rela­tions between the two coun­tries was the emer­gence of numer­ous Indo-GDR Friend­ship Soci­eties across dif­fer­ent parts of India. In the field of cul­tur­al rela­tions espe­cial­ly, entan­gle­ments came to be inten­si­fied through a myr­i­ad of media like the­atre, art, film, doc­u­men­taries, music, radio etc. The diverse activ­i­ties of the Friend­ship Soci­eties, uni­ver­si­ty intel­lec­tu­als, diplo­mats, the­atre play­wrights and film­mak­ers– with actors from both sides of the spec­trum– pro­duced a vibrant atmos­phere of entan­gle­ments which were at the inter­face of both polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al diplo­ma­cy.

Though these entan­gle­ments have been researched indi­vid­u­al­ly from var­i­ous direc­tions [1], and through the lens of mul­ti­ple tropes, they have rarely received sys­tem­at­ic aca­d­e­m­ic atten­tion with­in the ambit of an over­ar­ch­ing frame­work. This is espe­cial­ly because his­to­ri­og­ra­phy on the larg­er sub­ject of India-GDR rela­tions is also large­ly scat­tered and scanty. This work­shop seeks to unpack the domain of “doing” cul­tur­al pol­i­tics by actors from India and the Ger­man Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic dur­ing the Cold War years.

Where­as the Ger­man term Kul­tur­poli­tik sug­gests the for­mal­ized ambit of state-led entan­gle­ments and soft pow­er, the pol­i­tics of cul­ture reflects how such pol­i­tics of ‘doing’ cul­ture per­co­lates the every­day life of pub­lic sphere(s), where­by entan­gle­ments acquire their own after­lives beyond the for­malised sphere of state pol­i­tics. It will focus, on the one hand, on how the GDR was re-pre­sent­ed for an Indi­an audi­ence and how India came to be pro­ject­ed and con­sumed as an object of inter­est in the GDR. On the oth­er, but more impor­tant­ly so, it aims to trace the life tra­jec­to­ries of indi­vid­u­als, lit­er­ary works and objects that were at the cusp of intense indi­vid­ual exchanges. Such his­to­ries, embed­ded in com­plex rela­tion­ships among actors from both the coun­tries, also call for a read­ing beyond the lim­it­ed and lim­it­ing vocab­u­lary of “pro­pa­gan­da pol­i­tics”. The work­shop will look at mul­ti­ple sites of “doing cul­ture” that active­ly con­tributed to pro­duc­ing an inter­face between state-led cul­tur­al entan­gle­ments, cul­tur­al diplo­ma­cy, par­tic­i­pa­to­ry democ­ra­cy and the pol­i­tics of resis­tance. Art, lit­er­a­ture, polit­i­cal thought, the­atre, film, radio then become per­ti­nent as spaces of col­lab­o­ra­tion that open a hith­er­to less explored archive of friend­ship.

Rather than pro­ject­ing India as the pas­sive play-field of Cold War “pro­pa­gan­da”, the objec­tive is to elu­ci­date how actors from India, who were at the heart of these entan­gle­ments, were active and mutu­al co-shapers of these rela­tions. Papers will con­tribute to a nuanced read­ing of the com­pelling Cold War con­texts, though with­out ren­der­ing India sole­ly as the “object” and receiv­er of Cold War block pol­i­tics.

How did mutu­al pres­ences get mate­ri­alised in the eclec­tic field of “cul­ture”? How can we trace entan­gle­ments by divert­ing our gaze to the con­tent of the medi­um, but also the mate­ri­al­i­ty of the very medi­um and the inter-cross­ing lives of the actors from both the sides? What do these entan­gle­ments tell us about the field of cul­tur­al pol­i­tics and the pol­i­tics of cul­ture in a Cold War con­text? How do these entan­gle­ments open the pos­si­bil­i­ties of trac­ing transna­tion­al ties? The workshop’s main objec­tive is to bring togeth­er diverse sites of entan­gle­ments under one over­ar­ch­ing the­o­ret­i­cal and the­mat­ic focus and there­in con­tribute to his­to­ri­og­ra­phy on India-GDR rela­tions.

Though these entan­gle­ments have been researched indi­vid­u­al­ly from var­i­ous directions1, and through the lens of mul­ti­ple tropes, they have rarely received sys­tem­at­ic aca­d­e­m­ic atten­tion with­in the ambit of an over­ar­ch­ing frame­work. This is espe­cial­ly because his­to­ri­og­ra­phy on the larg­er sub­ject of India-GDR rela­tions is also large­ly scat­tered and scanty. This work­shop seeks to unpack the domain of “doing” cul­tur­al pol­i­tics by actors from India and the Ger­man Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic dur­ing the Cold War years.

Rather than pro­ject­ing India as the pas­sive play-field of Cold War “pro­pa­gan­da”, the objec­tive is to elu­ci­date how actors from India, who were at the heart of these entan­gle­ments, were active and mutu­al co-shapers of these rela­tions. Papers will con­tribute to a nuanced read­ing of the com­pelling Cold War con­texts, though with­out ren­der­ing India sole­ly as the “object” and receiv­er of Cold War block pol­i­tics.

How did mutu­al pres­ences get mate­ri­alised in the eclec­tic field of “cul­ture”? How can we trace entan­gle­ments by divert­ing our gaze to the con­tent of the medi­um, but also the mate­ri­al­i­ty of the very medi­um and the inter-cross­ing lives of the actors from both the sides? What do these entan­gle­ments tell us about the field of cul­tur­al pol­i­tics and the pol­i­tics of cul­ture in a Cold War con­text? How do these entan­gle­ments open the pos­si­bil­i­ties of trac­ing transna­tion­al ties? The workshop’s main objec­tive is to bring togeth­er diverse sites of entan­gle­ments under one over­ar­ch­ing the­o­ret­i­cal and the­mat­ic focus and there­in con­tribute to his­to­ri­og­ra­phy on India-GDR rela­tions.

[1] Attempts to trace the nature of some of these inter­twined tra­jec­to­ries come pri­mar­i­ly from The­atre Stud­ies, Film Stud­ies, Arts and Aes­thet­ics, Lit­er­ary Stud­ies, his­to­ri­og­ra­phy on uni­ver­si­ties and Cold War Stud­ies, but rarely have they informed a sys­tem­at­ic his­to­ri­og­ra­phy on India-GDR rela­tions beyond the realm of diplo­mat­ic his­to­ry. 

Workshop Programme

Day 1 (21.12.2018)

09:30 – 09:45

Wel­come and Intro­duc­tion
Michael Mann (Depart­ment for South Asian Stud­ies, Hum­boldt-Uni­ver­sität zu Berlin)
Heike Liebau (Leib­niz-Zen­trum Mod­ern­er Ori­ent, Berlin)
Anan­di­ta Baj­pai (Hum­boldt-Uni­ver­sität zu Berlin and Leib­niz-Zen­trum Mod­ern­er Ori­ent, Berlin)

09:45 – 11:30

Chair: Joachim Oester­held

Trav­el Writ­ing on India in the GDR: Between Cul­tur­al Diplo­ma­cy and Pop­u­lar Edu­ca­tion
Anush­ka Gokhale

Brecht in Marathi: Cold War and the emer­gence of Cul­ture as ‘Prob­lem’
Vaib­hav Dilip Abnave

11:30 – 11:45

Coffee/Tea Break

11:45 – 13:30

Chair: Anan­di­ta Baj­pai

Crit­i­cal Ped­a­gogy in the The­atre Stu­dio: The Prac­tice of Fritz Ben­newitz
Anu­rad­ha Kapur

Col­lab­o­ra­tive Dia­logues across the The­atri­cal Pub­lic Spheres: ‘Invin­ci­ble Viet­nam’ in Cal­cut­ta and Ros­tock, 1967
Bish­nupriya Dutt

13:30 – 14:30

Lunch

14.30 – 16:15

Chair: Heike Liebau (Leib­niz-Zen­trum Mod­ern­er Ori­ent)

Social­ist Ger­many and India: Entan­gle­ments in Car­tog­ra­phy and Archi­tec­ture 1949–1989
Christoph Bern­hardt

The Sound of Friend­ship: Warm Wave­lengths of Radio Berlin Inter­na­tion­al in India dur­ing the Cold War Years
Anan­di­ta Baj­pai

16:15 – 16:30

Coffee/Tea Break

16:30 – 18:15

Chair: Michael Mann

India at The Leipzig Doc­u­men­tary Film Fes­ti­val
Veena Har­i­ha­ran

A Wit­ness to His­to­ry: Pro­duc­tion of Images of India in GDR News­reels
Reyazul Haque

18:30

Con­fer­ence Din­ner

Day 2 (22.12.2018)

10:00 – 11:45

Chair: Anan­di­ta Baj­pai

The Notion of ‘Expres­siv­i­ty’ in the Art Col­lec­tives of India: The Real­ists and The Rad­i­cal Painters and Sculp­tors’ Asso­ci­a­tion
Rahul Dev

Matri­ces of Exchange: Pol­i­tics of Cul­tur­al Exchange and Mod­ernist Print­mak­ing in India.
Jyoth­idas KV

11:45 – 12:00

Cof­fee Break

12:00 – 13:00

Wrap Up/Final Dis­cus­sion

Please find detailed infor­ma­tion about this work­shop and the pro­gramme here.