The Handmaid’s Tale, an award-winning television series, may be about a fictional “alternative reality”, but the show’s creators have gone to great lengths to ensure that references to themes such as climate change, human rights abuses, and refugees, are as real and accurate as possible, by collaborating closely with UN experts.
The TV version of The Handmaid’s Tale is based on the classic 1985 book of the same name by acclaimed author Margaret Atwood, about a dystopian USA, renamed Gilead, ruled by a brutal theocracy in which people, particularly women, have been stripped of their rights.
In the story, an environmental disaster has led to most women becoming infertile, and the small number who are still able to become pregnant are forced to become handmaids, sexual slaves who are raped by the ruling elite in order to provide them with children.
Atwood frequently said in interviews that everything described in the book is happening, or has happened, somewhere in the world. The producers of the TV version, mindful of the status of the book’s legacy, have been careful to take the same approach.
Playwright Dorothy Fortenberry is one of the writers of the show. She told UN news that, whilst the book reflects 1980s concerns about the environmental impact of nuclear incidents, and acid rain pollution, the writing team felt that it was important to make climate change the backdrop to the societal collapse that brings about Gilead.
“We researched how things like higher temperatures and plastic pollution could affect fertility (we’re currently seeing a decline in fertility worldwide), and the emergence of climate-related diseases. We wanted the series to feel as grounded in reality as possible.”
One of the ironies of the show is that the authoritarian rulers of Gilead have successfully dealt with many aspects of climate change, banning fossil fuels, driving in electric vehicles, and ending plastic pollution.
“Climate change is an event, it doesn’t have a politics, and it’s not necessarily the case that accepting and dealing with climate change would lead to progressive policies: a pro-environment movement could also be fascist, anti-immigrant and repressive”.
Ms. Fortenberry and her colleagues also wanted to ensure that the many human rights issues raised in the show are realistic, frequently discussing the issues with Andi Gitow, who runs the UN’s Creative Community Outreach Initiative (CCOI). Ms. Gitow said that the team took great pains to get the details right.
“We started with open-ended conversations, where the team would ask, for example, what it’s really like to live in a conflict zone, how does international law work in practice. Then I brought in experts, including someone who lived in Aleppo, Syria, and an international human rights lawyer”.
“The team wanted to know what refugees experience emotionally and practically, and how refugee centres operate. For example, when Emily, one of the characters, crosses the border into Canada, she’s met by an all-female team who tell her that she’s safe. And when Hannah (the lead character), is reunited with her daughter, it’s not the usual Hollywood reunion: there’s a mix of fear, anger and misunderstanding, which is what can often happen in the real world”.
The power of drama
The international success of The Handmaid’s Tale has meant that millions of people are now aware of the issues contained within the drama, often for the first time.
“Drama is one of the most powerful mediums”, says Ms. Gitow. “Of course, reports, documents and meetings are very important. But drama give you the ability to reach a mass audience who might not otherwise be exposed to these issues, and might not otherwise seek out information about them”.
However, the writers strive to avoid pushing a particular agenda, and focus on telling strong stories, with complex, three-dimensional characters coping with extraordinary circumstances.
“If you want to get across a certain point of view, it’s better to write an op-ed”, says Ms. Fortenberry. “That said, we consciously show normal, middle-class women in the US going through some of the experiences that are happening right now to women elsewhere in the world. By doing so, we’re bringing specificity and humanity to some of the horrors taking place, from climate change to gender violence. When you see the effects on one person, you can relate to them”.
“With a drama, you see issues lived and played out by a character you connect with”, adds Ms. Gitow. “You think of yourself, your mother, boss, or best friend in that situation, and it becomes very real. You imagine how you would react in that situation. The news can give you detail, but it can’t do that”.
Mirroring the Heart of Heaven and Earth: Ideals and Images in the Chinese Study
Mirroring the Heart of Heaven and Earth: Ideals and Images in the Chinese Study, an exhibition designed by New York-based firm OLI Architecture, has opened in the Palace Museum. Located in the center of the 72-hectare complex in the Forbidden City, built in the fifteenth century, the museum houses one of the world’s largest collections of ancient Chinese artifacts, calligraphy, paintings, and porcelain. Working closely with curators at The Palace Museum, OLI Architecture has created a space that brings together art and objects spanning from antiquity to contemporary art within the historical architecture.
Housed in the Meridian Gate Galleries, Mirroring the Heart of Heaven and Earth centers on the evolving role of the scholar throughout Chinese history, exploring the relationship to the court, to other scholars, the natural world, and the universe. The exhibition brings together 105 works ranging from antiquities to contemporary art, including books, scrolls, vases, sculptures, paintings, screens, cups, and seals. Alongside the art, the displays also include materials such as brushes, ink, and paper ranging from the 6th to the 21stt centuries. The three gallery wings are divided into three chapters: “Chapter One: Sanctuary of Literature and Music,” “Chapter Two: A Channel for Enlightenment,” and “Chapter Three: A Bond of Companionship.” These chapters deal respectively with the themes of a spiritual haven; self-cultivation and the bond between humanity and nature; and the appreciation of the finitude of life against the infinity of the universe.
The exhibition encourages a dialogue between heritage objects and modern artworks. For instance, an eighteenth-century plaque bearing the words ‘Chamber of the Five Classics’ in the Qianlong Emperor’s hand, that typically hangs in the hall that served as the imperial study, is prominently displayed at the beginning of the exhibition. The Five Classics include some of the oldest surviving Chinese texts and are the central works of Confucianism.
Contemporary artists represented include:
- Liu Dan (b. 1953) an ink painter trained in traditional style ink painting, he lives and works in Beijing, China.
- Xu Bing (b. 1955) is a multimedia artist known for his calligraphy and printmaking, who divides his time between New York City and Beijing.
- Xu Lei (b. 1963) an ink painter heavily involved in China’s 1980’s New Wave movement who currently serves as the Art Director of Beijing’s Today Art Museum.
- Bai Ming (b. 1965) a ceramicist and painter who teaches at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Young Ho Chang (b. 1956) an award-winning architect and researcher who is currently a professor of architecture at MIT. Hiroshi Okamoto, Founding Partner of OLI Architecture, remarks, “Our office often works with contemporary art and artists. It was a challenge to design this remarkable exhibition with pieces from famous contemporary artists paired with such rare and prominent antiquities. When we started the project the idea of the scroll and the ephemerality of paper became a central concept. Where the art and antiquities were displayed on a transparent softly glowing surface which flowed from the vertical to the horizontal at the datum of a scholar’s table height giving the viewer an intimate experience.”
World Economic Forum Announces 2023 Crystal Award Winners
Artist Maya Lin, acclaimed soprano and arts/health advocate Renée Fleming and actors and humanitarians Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre Elba are the recipients of the 29th Annual Crystal Award, the World Economic Forum announced today. The winners will be honoured at the opening session of the Forum’s Annual Meeting 2023 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, on the evening of Monday, 16 January. The award celebrates the achievements of leading artists who are bridge-builders and role models for all leaders of society.
The Crystal Award is presented at Davos each year by Hilde Schwab, Chairwoman and Co-Founder of the World Economic Forum’s World Arts Forum. The cultural leaders receiving the 2023 Crystal Award are bridge-builders. They connect us to each other; they help us reflect on the human condition and they provide visions of the world that can cut through the limitations of short-term or linear thinking.
Maya Lin receives the 2023 Crystal Award for her extraordinary creative talent in combining science, art and architecture and her exemplary leadership in the promotion of nature and environment. Lin has fashioned a remarkable interdisciplinary career through her highly acclaimed art and architectural works, showcasing sustainable design and emphasizing a stronger connection to the land and nature.
From her first public work, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., Lin has been committed to focusing attention on the key issues of our time: women’s rights, civil rights, Native American history and the climate crisis. In 2016, on awarding Lin the Presidential Medal of Freedom, President Barack Obama said her Vietnam Veterans Memorial “changed the way we think about sacrifice and patriotism and ourselves”.
Lin’s latest memorial, What is Missing?, is experimental and multidisciplinary in nature. In this work, Lin uses science-based artworks to raise awareness of the current mass extinctions of species, while emphasizing that by protecting and restoring habitats and reforming our land-use practices we could significantly reduce emissions and restore and protect biodiversity
Renée Fleming receives the 2023 Crystal Award for her leadership in championing the power of music and its relation to health, community and culture.
Renée Fleming is one of the most acclaimed sopranos of our time and a leading advocate for research at the intersection of arts, health and neuroscience. She launched the first ongoing collaboration between the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) with the participation of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The Sound Health initiative explores and brings attention to research and practice at the intersection of music, health and neuroscience. This collaboration has led to workshops at the NIH and events and performances at the Kennedy Center. It also led the NIH to recently award $20 million in funding for music and neuroscience research over five years. The Renée Fleming Foundation is now partnering with the Foundation for the NIH to develop a toolkit for standardizing music and health clinical research for brain disorders of ageing. Fleming has presented her programme, Music and the Mind, around the world.
Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre Elba receive the 2023 Crystal Award for their leadership in addressing food security, climate change and environmental conservation.
Actor, filmmaker and humanitarian, Idris Elba, and his wife, the model, actress and humanitarian, Sabrina Dhowre Elba, were appointed UN Goodwill Ambassadors for IFAD in April 2020. As IFAD Goodwill Ambassadors, they focus on issues related to food security, climate change and environmental conservation. The couple recently visited an IFAD-supported project in Sierra Leone, where they met farmers who received support for rice production and assistance with rural finance after the Ebola crisis.
The late Queen Elizabeth II awarded Idris Elba with the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2016 and the Prince’s Trust, founded by King Charles in 1976 – which Elba credits with helping to start his career – appointed him as its anti-crime ambassador in 2009
Elba supports causes related to poverty, HIV/AIDS, at-risk and disadvantaged youth, health and education. He worked with the UN and the Department for International Development in the UK during the Ebola health crisis and filmed campaigns in support of UNICEF, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals. He has recently created a number of youth-focused campaigns to promote education and learning and discourage violence.
Sabrina Dhowre Elba works with a variety of civil society organizations, including Farm Africa, raising funds to help farmers across eastern Africa, and Conservation International on environmental issues. She promotes gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls worldwide. She chairs the European board for Global Citizen and has been a keynote speaker at leading global events.
Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre Elbaare board members of Conservation International.
Crystal awardees are part of a large community of cultural leaders in Davos.
Growing demand for oriental cuisine in India
Recent years have witnessed the mushrooming of oriental restaurants serving ‘authentic’ Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Malaysian and of late Vietnamese cuisine (in certain instances it is not so authentic!). It is not just expats or members of the diplomatic community of these countries residing in India, but even the Indian consumer, in not just metro cities but even tier 2 cities, who is always up for some lip-smacking cuisine from East and South-East Asia.
In metropolitan cities – especially Mumbai, the National Capital Region (NCR) region and Bengaluru — apart from several other cities, it is true that several Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai restaurants serve East Asian and South-East Asian cuisine of a high quality, which is truly authentic.
It would be pertinent to point out, that for long restaurants located in five-star hotels were the preferred choice for consumers willing to spend on some authentic oriental cuisine. That is no longer the case with a number of stand-alone restaurants (some in the fine dining category) mushrooming in recent years in not just metropolitan cities, but tier two cities as well.
If one were to look at Vietnamese, Indonesian and Malaysian stand-alone restaurants in India, there is certainly scope for more authenticity. It is also important, for restaurants specializing in one oriental cuisine, to focus on one cuisine – while a few popular dishes from other cuisines are perfectly acceptable – a mish mash of dishes from across the orient while specializing in one cuisine is not advantageous.
There is no doubt, that it is important to cater to Indian taste buds, it is also important to bear in mind, that a lot of Indian consumers who have travelled and have a good knowledge of different cuisines are looking for authentic cuisine.
A number of oriental restaurants, which claim to serve authentic oriental food and specialize in one particular oriental cuisine end up serving a mish-mash of different Asian cuisines. While there is nothing wrong in the same, it is important then to position yourself as a restaurant which serves a blend of dishes from across the orient. It would be pertinent to point out, that as far as Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Korean cuisine is concerned, the Indian consumer – especially in metropolitan cities – has numerous choices.
Here it would also be important to mention that many oriental restaurants have managed to strike a balance by catering to local palette, while also ensuring a degree of authenticity and providing a mix of dishes from the orient at a reasonable price. It is also important for stand-alone fine dining restaurants to realize, that if they are excessively over-priced, they will lose their competitiveness if there are other options available to the consumer.
In conclusion, there is a growing demand for East Asian and South-East Asian cuisine in India. As mentioned earlier, it is not just expats or members of the diplomatic community, but a large number of Indians who are well travelled who are willing to spend on good oriental cuisine. It is important however for restaurateurs and chefs to remain in sync with changing trends in the market, and to remain relevant in an increasingly competitive market.
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