Tuesday, January 25, 2011

JLF and sponsorship

Vaiju Naravane in today's Hindu:
Should companies like Shell or Rio Tinto, with a bad reputation for environmental pollution, the violation of workers' rights and collusion with brutal dictatorships such as that of Augusto Pinochet in Chile or Sani Abacha in Nigeria, be considered acceptable as sponsors by those who run the Jaipur Literature Festival?

The question takes on great poignancy since the conclusion of the festival coincides, almost to the day, with hearings in the Dutch parliament on the alleged involvement of the Royal Dutch Shell company in the execution of Nigerian playwright, human rights activist and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa who was put to death with eight others after a hurried military trial in November 1995.
Sanjoy Roy, the head of TeamWork, the company that is in charge of the logistical and financial side of operations said: “We are not here as the guardians or gatekeepers of morality and we have not looked at the colour of money. Yes, we shall take this into consideration for the future, but at the end of the day whose money are we looking at and whose money is untainted? If organisations are prepared to support festivals such as these where issues such as these can be openly discussed then why not accept their help?”
'Not looked at the colour of money'. Right. 

But why ask only if the JLF organisers have asked themselves this question? What about the writers? If writers are expected to not accept awards given by organisations/institutions in order to make a political statement, can we also demand that they consider festivals as more than celebrations of the writing life?
Oh, and the JLF's list of sponsors here, on their website.


JP said...

You specialise in tough questions, don't you? :)

Hari Batti said...

It's a tough question, but I think it's fair to draw the line somewhere. Would we want to take money from Dow? Well, yes, if it were to clean up water in Bhopal, but probably not if it were part of a whitewash campaign. And a lot of money from the former white regime in South Africa was turned down by all sorts of reasonable people for reasonable reasons.

For artistic festivals, if a company has done something to blatantly undermine human rights or artistic freedom, then it might be best to turn down the money.

But we should have pretty high standards for turning down money, because it's true that if we dig a little, most large corporations do a lot of really bad things...the real answer is more often regulation and political sanctions of some sort.

And there are times when it is right for artists to turn down money or opportunities for exposure. But I'd say we should be easier on them than on big literary organisations.

km said...

Goldman Sachs, Times of India and the Johnnie Walker.

OK, space bar, *you* show me three organizations that you associate more with literature than those three companies.

Space Bar said...

jp: you think?

hb: well, exactly. and funding culture and art elsewhere in the world where people may or may not care what the corporation's been doing is one way of gaining legitimacy.

i agree that political sanctions are necessary, but as with SA a couple of decades ago and Israel now, it's a combination of BDS from both governments and (aargh this word annoys me) civil society that really puts pressure.

i'm not sure i agree that we ought to hold organisers to more stringent standards than writers or artists. i think writers/artists ought to be held to the highest standards there are but that doesn't let organisers off the hook either. (esp when you consider how often organisers themselves expect the writers/artists to provide the legitimacy for their enterprise. see dan david, jerusalem prize, galle lit fest).

km: um...vodafone, suhel seth's company...what's its face - counselage and...ok. i'll concede the toi. no one can beat them for the fineness and discernment of their writing.