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From New Delhi to the UK: Suraj Prasad

  • A view across Edinburgh from the top of Arthur's seat.

Photo by Shabnam Lilani

Suraj Prasad, director of Lightcube in New Delhi, travelled to the UK as part of the ATSA Fellowship.

I visited UK and worked with Invisible Dust, a charity that works with scientists and visual artists to create awareness about climate change. This was my first visit to UK and my first trip outside of India. Although I was anxious in the beginning, I felt very much at ease when I finally landed in London. The language was familiar, most traditions and cultural nuances were familiar too, thanks to our imported education and exposure to films.

Discovering UK culture

I spent the first few days discovering London, meeting people and visiting museums and galleries. At every institution I visited I was greeted with a smile. In India, engaging with with a cultural event or institution is often more difficult; I must be willing to be searched and to show my documents or passport.

Another important thing I noticed was that each member of staff was well-trained and able to guide you if you needed more information. In India, I’ve found that employees may not necessarily have any interest or awareness of the exhibition which can be off-putting for an audience member.

This results in a gradual decline in interest and what we have today are vast populations that have no interest or awareness of art or culture beyond the mainstream. Art and artists are only relevant to the Indian middle class because they command a certain price at an auction or have won an international award. Local awareness and valuation of cultural products and services needs to be worked on.

I travelled a lot within the UK to Leeds, York, Scarborough and Edinburgh. The association with Invisible Dust was helpful in terms of knowledge exchange but also an exposure to the landscape and cultural economies of several cities in the UK.

Each of these cities presented some interesting situations that I learned from. For example, at the Treasurer’s House in York, I interacted with some volunteers who were all retired. It was incredible to see their level of engagement with the space, awareness of its history and the un-hurriedness of their interactions.

Making new connections

One of the trip's highlights was a meeting, organised by Jay Arnold, with Chris Fell, director of Leeds International Film Festival and Bill Lawrence from the Manchester Animation Film Festival. We met for a relaxed lunch meeting where I was able to share some of Lightcube's future project ideas. Both Chris and Bill seemed keen to know more and we discussed potential collaborations.

In the last week I returned to London where I explored some of the tourist spots and reconnected with the friends I had made. My interactions with local people in bars, cafes, markets and local events across the UK gave me some interesting insights. I came to understand that the anxieties and insecurities of people in India and the UK are very similar. ‘Culture’ whilst accessible to most people, remains to be truly democratised.

The pursuit of change

Back in India, I am still trying to figure out if the differences between the cultural landscapes in India and the UK is simply a function of a more developed socio-economic system. India has a vibrant culture, however, there is a constant push and pull between how the policy intends to shape it and how people want to develop it organically, not to forget the massive diversity in language and other regional factors.

The ATSA fellowship has opened many possibilities and made me aware of things that were previously overlooked or assumed to be a certain way. I am optimistic and the pursuit of change has just started.

Suraj Prasad
Founder, Lightcube, New Delhi

What is ATSA?

The ARThinkSouthAsia Fellowship develops potential leaders in South Asia's cultural sector. The programme focuses on increasing skills, knowledge, networks and experience for exceptional individuals.

Initiated in 2010 by the Goethe-Institut in India, supported by the British Council since 2013 and the Piramal Art Foundationsince 2014.

Find out more about ATSA


Find out more about Suraj’s work at Lightcube.