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Mahesh Bhatt • Director, India

I am culture… Culture is not something outside. I am its expression!

- Cineuropa marks the 5th Avignon Forum with interviews with several personalities from the cultural and creative sector

Mahesh Bhatt • Director, India

With its theme 'Culture: Reasons to hope. Imagining and transmitting', from November 15 to 17, the fifth Avignon Forum aims to offer reasons for hope in a time of pessimism.

Every year, the forum organises and supports international meetings in Avignon and Essen with the Avignon-Ruhr Forum. Suggestions made during these discussions between actors in culture, creation industries, economics, and media are then relayed to national and international bodies.

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Does culture / creative imagination give you a reason to hope?
Mahesh Bhatt: Man lives in hope and dies in hope. The blunt truth is this that there is no oasis yonder, the human race is stuck with a mirage. Culture is that mirage. All art is born out of frustration. Everything is born out of frustration. What is there to hope for that is not here already? A better tomorrow? A world free of conflict, of misery, of suffering? Can culture create such a world? Can the human imagination? The last 10,000 years is a history of human culture, of the human imagination writ large across the surface of our planet. Tell me, taking such history into account, could one reasonably hope for a different outcome?
Culture, like anything, is a matter of definition. The powers that have been throughout history, whether religious, political, or economic have generally maintained a monopoly on the creation and enforcement of the different systems of definitions by which we live. In that sense, why would we expect any culture borne of such systems to lead to any other world than the one already in our midst?
And yet, conversely, if one regards culture or the potential of the human imagination rather as a means to envision new definitions or modes of self-understanding, then perhaps, yes, it may offer some "hope." But not a hope for a world with less suffering, nor one any less destructive. Who can say if the unknown offers us any less of an abyss than the one history has already supplied? But if genuine instances of imagination can cast us further out into the unknown, or can welcome the unknown further in, then perhaps there is a chance, or a hope, that some power beyond the flimsy, archaic structures of human thought might in its own way express itself.

Who embodies it the best?
We are all embodiments of culture. The world we see and the body we feel and touch are no different. They are both structures passed down to us through countless generations, ideas that corral our living experience into the all too well-traversed avenues through which countless lives have already passed. If the cultures of our forerunners’ societies are somehow flushed out of an individual, then the living organism that is there beneath it can begin to flourish. Such a person is not and cannot be a part of the value system of society. We look to culture now for a hint, a dying fragrance of the salvation that we once were taught to look for from religion. And just as we did not find it in incense-laden temples or churches, so we will not find it in museums, cinemas, galleries, or concert-halls. This search for one form of rescue after another is nothing other than culture itself, running its course in our lives. We do not realize that it is this culture that is strangling life’s energy, keeping it from expressing itself in its own unique and unparalleled way. Life’s energy can never be “embodied” or controlled. It thrashes and tears down whatever barriers have been put around it.

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