Imagine All the People

Shubham Roy Choudhury

Shubham Roy Choudhury works at the India Foundation for the Arts as Programme Executive, Arts Practice developing and monitoring arts projects. Additionally, he leads the IFA archive project. He has a Masters degree in Film Studies from Jadavpur University and Research Training Programme from Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. He has worked with the Department of Film Studies, The Media Lab and the School of Media, Communication and Culture, Jadavpur University, in various capacities. He has taught film & media studies in educational institutes in India and Bangladesh. Shubham has worked with television channels and ad agencies. He has been closely associated to TENT art space and has acted in a few films. He has contributed to a number of books, journals and newspapers. He has special interest in archiving, sound studies, cinema and new media technology.

doi: 10.18278/aia.2.2.14

The year 2017 marks the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh International Festival. Over the years the festivals have created a unique history in celebrating a multiplicity of voices in the arts. In 2017, Brexit has come into effect and USA faces unprecedented political turmoil at the highest level. The year also marks the 70th year of Indian independence from the British, during which India’s government is engaged in destroying our multicultural ethos and has lost basic empathy for its citizens.

We are at an important juncture in human history. We live in a time where we are continuously bombarded with information, but we are grappling to make sense of the world around us. We live in bubbles that we have created and we are complacent listening only to the voices with which we agree. As a result the world is a much polarized place today.

It is difficult to grasp that we are a species capable of interplanetary travel, but incapable of providing food to every individual. We have superior communications technology, but we are unwilling to listen to each other. Now more than ever we need to listen to the voices of our fellow beings and try to understand their point of view. In his book Pale Blue Dot, Carl Sagan (1994) describes a photograph of Earth taken by Apollo 17 astronauts from space. Sagan writes, “We are too small and our statecraft is too feeble to be seen by a spacecraft between the Earth and the Moon. From this vantage point, our obsession with nationalism is nowhere in evidence.” The arts already offers us this vantage point on Earth. It provides us microscopic views into human relations, exposes structures of power, makes us realize the vastness of nature and helps us realize the value and ephemerality of the human existence.

The question before us today is whether arts will help us become more empathetic? In such difficult times the arts is our sign of resilience. After all, the art is the crystallization of human desire to communicate with each other. The arts are not deemed a necessity for everyday life, so they have the unique power to present multiple perspectives. While art can be used for cultural aggression and sometimes far removed from reality, it is almost impossible to silence the subversive potential of art. Our ability to listen to the Other and caring for them is what sets us apart as a species. This empathy for others beyond our immediate surroundings is our everyday practice of humanity. Today the space for arts is shrinking at various levels but we must remember without empathy it will be impossible for the arts to survive; without the arts the humans would be no different from machines. More importantly, our empathy towards fellow beings today determines the multiple futures we imagine. Our precarious position at this moment of history therefore is not a bleak descent to a dystopia, but rather a clarion call to prove our humanity through empathy.


Sagan, Carl. (1994) Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. New York: Ballantine Books.