Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens, Director of the Institut français in India, presents the Villa Swagatam
Updated on 14/09/2023
The Villa Swagatam was inaugurated in April by the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Catherine Colonna. Can you tell us more about the origins of this project?
First of all, the Villa Swagatam aims to create a community of French and Indian artists and writers interested in strengthening the cultural dialogue between our two countries, as worthy heirs to such remarkable figures as the painter S.H. Raza, Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore, screenwriter and author Jean-Claude Carrière and theatre director Ariane Mnouchkine. Secondly, we are committed to cultural and environmental sustainability, which is why our work is long-term, with resident artists staying in India for several months at a time. Our final objective is institutional cooperation with a network of some of the most innovative Indian and French residencies, united around a single set of specifications and a group call for applications.
Villa Swagatam works with 16 Indian partner organisations across the country. How were they chosen and what do they say about India today?
We had several criteria, but our principal guide was local roots. It was a question of acting on the capacity of these organisations to present the face of contemporary India at its most innovative to residents. India has a formidable creative ecosystem, based on organisations of various kinds spread across the sub-continent, and we wanted to work with those that best reflected this dynamism and Indian specificity in their chosen themes. This is why we are extremely proud of the network we have established with these 16 residencies, testimony to the enormous potential that India has to offer artists, writers and intellectuals. India is a country where the world of tomorrow is being built, where public figures and organisations have a very powerful message.
Villa Swagatam joins other French residences abroad, such as the Villa Albertine in the United States, the Villa Kujoyama in Japan, the Villa Saigon in Vietnam, and the Villa Medici and Nouveau Grand Tour in Italy. What is special about Villa Swagatam?
Although they might be found in some of the other residencies in the network, two specific features are particularly strong at Villa Swagatam. Firstly, we are committed to reciprocity. Having established a network of 16 partner residences in India, we are now working to identify residencies in France prepared to welcome Indian prize-winners on the same basis. On the other hand, the scheme essentially relies on the residencies themselves, with whom we select the residents, and who then take care of welcoming them and accompanying them during their stay. As the Institut français, our added value lies in our ability to ensure high visibility for the group call for applications through our network, and thus attract the best of French contemporary creation to India, and vice versa. In addition, we will be responsible for maintaining a long-term link with all the successful applicants in order to stimulate this community, which will eventually become a breeding ground for the IFI's cultural cooperation activities.
The first call for applications closed at the end of May. It focused on arts and crafts, performing arts and literary creation. Can you explain this choice?
We looked for themes in which both countries have a long tradition of excellence. India is a country of extraordinary talent in textiles and crafts, and this echoes French excellence in fashion and design. The performing arts also play a very important role in both our societies, through theatre, dance and music. Even today, these occasionally spontaneous practices reflect great regional diversity, engaging in dialogue with the public arena. Not to mention the fact that India and France both have a long tradition of festivals. Finally, French publishers are increasingly interested in Indian literature, and a similar trend can also be seen in India, where we have worked hard to translate and publish French literature in Indian languages. The fact that France and India have decided to honour each other at the Paris and Delhi book fairs in 2022 and 2023 testifies to the vitality of the sector. So we are at a very interesting juncture, when the mutual curiosity of our two countries is expanding in these three sectors.
The first residents arrived in India this summer. How are the residencies being organised?
We received over 200 applications, spread evenly across the three themes, which was good news. The selection was made in consultation with each of the partner residencies. The result is a balanced selection, both in terms of gender and average age. Our first resident, Massandje Sanogo, arrived at Serendipity Arts Foundation at the beginning of July, where she joined a group of young Indian residents selected for a three-month programme. Serendipity is opening the doors of the Delhi cultural scene to them, offering them a framework in which to work, and perhaps the chance to present their work at the festival the foundation will be organising in Goa in December. As is the case here, we continue to act as a facilitator, with an introductory period and a presentation at the end of the residency. We are building our cultural programme for the future by offering the residents the opportunity to be a creative force.
Villa Swagatam naturally aims to nurture links between France and India and to encourage dialogue between these two cultures. In addition to the partner organisations in India, you have also developed a network of French partners.
From the outset, we involved French cultural players specialising in dissemination, whether they be foundations or associations, who were able to relay the group call for applications for the Indian residencies. It is really thanks to their help that we've managed to assemble 200 excellent applications. From this autumn onwards, we will also be identifying residencies prepared to welcome Indian prize-winners to France on a regular basis. Eventually, we would like to organise meetings between Indian residencies, French residencies and Indian and French partners in a framework of institutional cooperation, or even workshops in a broader format involving other Villas in the French cultural network.