Exploring the link between traditions

The East Meets West exhibition at Worthing Museum

The East Meets West exhibition at Worthing Museum

  • East Meets West is being held in Worthing Museum’s art gallery until May 2
  • Exhibition portrays the connection between Indian dance cultures, Romany gypsies, Morris dancers and shepherds
  • A programme of free activities aimed at all ages accompanies the exhibition
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TRAINEE reporter Sophie Read went along to see what Worthing Museum’s latest exhibition has to offer.

WHAT does an Indian dance have to do with downland shepherds?

Not much you might say? Well according to a new exhibition at Worthing Musuem and Art Gallery, there is ‘plenty to link these seemingly diverse communities and traditions together’.

East Meets West portrays the connection between Indian dance cultures, Romany gypsies, Morris dancers and shepherds through an unusual collection of costumes, tools and fine art.

When you walk into the room, the first thing to hit you is the colour. I’m not sure if it’s the little girl in me, but the vibrancy and texture of the costumes makes you want to pull them off the mannequins and try them all on.

Once a slightly saner mind prevails, you can see the clear distinction between the four genres.

On the Indian side, the exhibition features the colourful and quite frankly enormous costumes worn in Indian dance drama, Kathakali.

This is displayed alongside Bharathantayam costume, also a form of dance, which originated in the temples of Tamil Nadu.

A true poet may be able to draw immediate comparisons between the dedication needed to wear such a heavy costume throughout the duration of a performance, to the perseverance of a shepherd tending to his flock out on the hills in all seasons.

I’m not sure I could go quite so far but luckily for me there are more factual links to pull the pieces together.

The gypsy artwork, is to me the most fascinating as it details how the Romany people of West Sussex are descended from five tribes who left India and migrated west, bringing with them the language and lifestyle of India.

To add another dimension to the exhibition, musician Giller Romany was performing traditional gypsy songs on the day of my visit. He explained how being mistaken for Egyptians during the epic journey from India fashioned the term ‘gypsy’.

An event called the Findon Great Fair is where the Morris dancing and shepherds come in.

If you come away understanding the link between all these things, separated by thousands of miles, then the exhibition has fulfilled its task.

• East Meets West is being held in the museum’s art gallery, in Chapel Road, until May 2.

Kalamandalam Barbara Vijayakumar is the director of The Kala Chethena Kathakali Company, whose vision created the Heritage Lottery fund supported exhibition.

She said: “There’s plenty to link these seemingly diverse communities and traditions together.”

Accompanying the exhibition is a programme of free activities aimed at all ages including: Songs and poems of the Downland shepherds on March 21; Kathakali costume conservation and a lecture on the Migration of Traditions on March 27, Kathakali and Bharathanatyam performance on March 28; a celebration of Roma Day with a gypsy wagon, traditional dances, talks and poems on April 4 and a Morris dancing performance and talk on May 1.

There are also children and family art days, where children can create their own Kathakali, gypsy and shepherd inspired craft items to take home on April 1 and May 2. To book a workshop, call 01903 221448.