A case study on ‘connections, affinities, and desire’
The posters are a sight to behold, but it’s within the context of the exhibit that they begin to tell a vivid, new story.
In the show, Bombay cinema posters are displayed in conversation with Senegalese items — and among other materials, such as footage and memorabilia — to highlight the exchange between the cultures.
That cultural exchange between India and Senegal might be more familiar than you know.
Most people know him as a Grammy-nominated, platinum-selling singer-songwriter-producer, either through his solo work or his collaborations with artists ranging from Snoop Dogg to Whitney Houston. But the Senegalese-American superstar also has a place in Bombay cinema: He lent his voice to the soundtrack for a major movie of the genre, the 2011 superhero flick Ra.One, including the soundtrack’s single.
“Bombay cinema has been incredibly popular around the world, so there are these fan cultures that have formed in different parts of the world that aren’t directly connected to South Asia — where there might not be significant populations of South Asians,” explained Mills, a lecturer in UC Berkeley’s History of Art Department.
Senegal is one of those places.
Unlike other parts of Africa, Senegal, located on the westernmost tip of the continent, never had a large infusion of South Asians. But the influence of Bombay cinema has permeated the culture, with TV and radio programs, clubs, parties, and dance performances devoted to and inspired by the genre.
“We hope the exhibition will educate the campus community and anyone who comes … about global communities that are normally talked about in isolation,” Mills said.
Why so much cultural crossover between India, which was colonized by the British, and the French-colonized Senegal?
Indian textiles that were brought by Europeans to Senegal became luxury goods and helped open up a window to an exciting new world.
But the cultural interplay — the flow of ideas and possibilities — can’t be completely chalked up to pure economics. It’s also fueled by the ability of a culture to “change the horizons of possibility” — to fascinate and inspire outsiders, the curators note.
Bombay cinema, for example, appears to have influenced Senegalese notions of love — including the popularity of the theme of star-crossed lovers, often portrayed in Hindi films and video dramas in Wolof, the language of Senegal’s largest ethnic group.
“It is a very interesting case study about connections, affinities, and desire,” said Ray, an assistant professor in the History of Art Department.
Story by Tor Haugan
Photos by Cade Johnson for the University Library
Oct. 16, 2017