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A Stroll Through the Heat, Food and Music of Asia on Southmore

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By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: The Asia Society closed off the section of the street in front of its building and once again brought the colors, sounds and flavors of Asia to Southmore this past Saturday, May 13 just a day before Mother’s Day. It was reminiscent of the Society’s Night Market that has become a popular event in the Fall, albeit much sunnier and hotter! An estimated 2,500 people came to visit the Center throughout the day for AsiaFest 2017, though it was a lighter turnout than the past two years, some vendors noted.

People flowed onto the front lawn to mingle and eat at tables and benches while watching performers on a stage in one corner. The sound of Asian music – and Bollywood dance numbers – wafted across the entire block. Vendor booths were setup at the sidewalk while food trucks featuring Asian cuisines lined the street. Inside, vendor booths were set up in the lobby and the upstairs lobby and main hall were turned into a kid zone with plenty of activities for the tiny tykes and their parents. Along the backwall, an exhibit of ikebana – the Japanese art of flower arrangement – was laid out for people to marvel.

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In the North Gallery and Grand Hall, an ongoing exhibit (from April 22 to September 10) by the contemporary artist Sangram Manjumdar was open to the public, as was the Modern Twist (January 28 to July 30), a Japanese Bamboo Art display in the second floor Gallery, featuring works by Living National Treasures Katsushiro Sōhō (2005) and Fujinuma Noboru (2012) and other visionary Japanese artists.

Born in Kolkata, India, Manjumdar has an MFA from Indiana University and a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. He is a full-time Professor of Painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. This is his first-ever exhibition in Texas. His work evokes the cyclical nature of history and the mingling of Asian and western cultures.

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Modern Twist shows how the creativity and talent of bamboo basket makers has been elevated by 16 contemporary artists to a modern genre with unexpected new forms of technical, and artistic ingenuity. The weaved works are so exquisite that it is hard to tell whether the medium is bamboo or metal.

This is the third year that the Asia Society has held AsiaFest to celebrate the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month during May, which also marks the completion of the transcontinental railroad track in 1869; largely by Chinese, as well as Irish, immigrants.

“The purpose behind AsiaFest is to celebrate Asian-Pacific American Heritage,” said Rose Rougeau, the center’s vice president of communication, “and to bring families together in celebration of Houston’s diverse cultures.” She thanked the event co-chairs, Teri and Jeffrey Lee, for their role for the second consecutive year.

A number of Indian vendors had booths at the festival and the Avantica Academy of Odissi Dance performed live onstage. There was also a rangoli and sari tying demonstration by the India Culture Center as well as ebru painting, henna and art display by the Islamic Arts Society.

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