Creating Change at the Culture Lab

Take an auto rickshaw up the Eastern Freeway to Vikhroli, a semi-industrial Mumbai suburb that receives virtually no “cred” from the city’s cultural elite. There, beneath the smoke stacks of Godrej’s industrial compound, you’ll find a beautiful, green campus of office buildings. Inside the campus nonchalantly stands a state-of-the-art “Lab” and performance space that has, in the two years of its existence, quickly become one of Mumbai’s foremost destinations for art, music, and culture.

The Godrej India Culture Lab, as it is called, curates events of all shapes and sizes, most of which are free and open to the general public. The events include a monthly “Friday Funda” speaker and performer series, Film and Book Clubs with filmmakers and authors, as well as “PopUp” mini conferences featuring INK and film festivals like the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival. On July 19th, 2013, I had the fortune of being able to present my first “Work-In-Progress” screening of my Fulbright-mtvU documentary. You check out the video of my presentation on the following Fulbright-mtvU blog entry. But, for now, take a closer look at the Lab through a video I made featuring Parmesh Shahani, the Lab’s founder/director, and Frazan Kotwal, one of the Lab’s featured guests:

One of the things that attracted me to the Lab was its founder, who I had known and read about for some time in my studies. Parmesh, who received an MA degree in Comparative Media Studies from M.I.T., is the author of Gay Bombay: Globalization, Love, and Belonging in Contemporary India. The result of Parmesh’s MA research, the book stands as a beacon of scholarship in the field of South Asian queer studies.

Parmesh has always been interested in finding ways to creatively apply research and scholarship to practice. Soon after a year-long stint as research manager for the M.I.T. think tank Convergence Culture Consortium, Parmesh was accepted to the TED Fellows program. His experience there inspired him to return to India to “create epic things”. Soon after, he landed in the laps of the Godrej corporate group, and on January 2011, the Godrej India Culture Lab was created.

The impetus for the Lab was “to create an alternative intellectual hub in Mumbai…that would serve as a catalyst for conversations about contemporary India, by brokering interactions between academia, the creative industries, the corporate world and the not-for-profit sector”. According to Parmesh, “India is an important world power. Its contemporary culture needs to be chronicled, amplified and debated across interdisciplinary silos”. Most of the Lab’s talks and performances are archived on their website, which they “hope will become an important resource on contemporary India in the near future”.

For the two years it has been around, the Lab has also stood as a beacon for LGBT programming. According to Parmesh, “in our larger quest to understand what is ‘modern India’, we must probe questions of gender and sexuality. I’m personally invested in LGBT issues, and have always been devoted to programming LGBT-related events at the Godrej India Culture Lab”. The Lab has invited scholars and artists, plays, film festivals, and music events with themes related to gender and sexuality. This is part of the Lab’s larger mission to become a useful alternative space of ideas not only for all people who are creating change.

For me, the Lab is incredible not only because of its intellectual focus, but also its efforts to help create and shape culture through interactive workshops, presentations and media exposure. For them, the term “culture” encompasses not only the visual and performing arts, but also the “broader questions related to aspects of living, demographics, gender relations, urbanism, and communication technologies.” It’s about pluralism, diversity, communication, process, and engaging with ideas of the future.

In the future, the Lab will be producing their own work through the curation of more talent. Currently, the team is looking for a Research Scholar in Residence and, for the year following, an Artist in Residence. So, if you’re interested in spending a year in Mumbai working with a brilliant team in a state-of-the-art experimental lab, consider working at the Godrej India Culture Lab

5 thoughts on “Creating Change at the Culture Lab

  1. On this day that we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, Jeff reminds us that the dream for equality for all people especially within India’s LGBT community still persists. Well done Jeff!


  2. “…full of empathy…”, great answer, something any country should strive for I suppose, but especially when a country and its people struggle to find an identity and ideals to strive for, this is one we need to keep reminding ourselves of. I hope more and more people in India get to listen and be a part of the kind of conversations Godrej India Lab is trying to achieve. Regardless, another beautiful moment from your time in India Jeff, thanks for sharing with us!


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