For the 16th year, Festival Accès Asie celebrates Asian artists throughout the month of May
Pop quiz: When is Asian Heritage Month? I, too, was surprised to discover that, in Canada, it’s officially every May since 2002, when Ottawa formally opted to follow in the footsteps of the U.S., where they’ve been celebrating Asian Heritage Month since 1979. In typical Montreal fashion, however, we elected not to wait for the rest of the country to catch up, and long before it ever became nationally official, the Montreal Asian Heritage Month Group formed in 1995 with a mission to bring Asian Canadian artists’ work to the general public. Now in its 16th year, the renamed Festival Accès Asie is the longest-running Asian heritage festival in the country, and it continues to program an exciting and diverse cross-section of performances, screenings and cultural exchanges.
From May 6 to 29, an eye-opening umbrella of pan-national Asian culture will spread itself over many of the city’s cultural and culinary institutions, including the Gesù, Ex-Centris, Tangente, NFB’s CinéRobothèque and Buffet Maharaja. For the average armchair anthropologist, Accès Asie’s definition of “Asia” challenges commonly held misconceptions of cultural boundaries in favour of the geographical. According to the festival’s artistic director, Janet Lumb, this year’s programming proudly represents artists from over 20 countries, spanning East Asia (Japan, China, North and South Korea), Southeast Asia (Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore), South Asia (Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka) and Central and Middle Eastern Asia (Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan and Armenia).
Accordingly, one of this year’s Accès Asie highlights is a program of Iranian films, which will be presented on Sunday, May 8, at the NFB’s CinéRobothèque theatre, featuring three recent Iranian-Montreal transplants and their selection of feature, documentary, experimental and short films, followed by a discussion.
Back by popular demand, for the foodies, is the Culinary Arts component, which this year is comprised of a chai- and naan-making demonstration on Saturday, May 7, at Buffet Maharaja, which includes a food tasting and tabla and dance performance by Shawn Mativetsky and Sudesna Maulik, respectively.
The signature event of this year’s festival falls under the Sacred Arts series and constitutes a four-day residency by five Tibetan monks who will take over the Gesù church from Thursday, May 26, to Sunday, May 29, in an ultimate culture-melding endeavour, performing a variety of Zen-inducing demonstrations in an effort to raise funds for an Indian temple. The festival’s final gesture and activity will be the destroying of the sand mandala that had been created, which symbolizes material and psychological attachments and the letting go of the ego, of creation, destruction and rebirth. As a souvenir, participants will be given some of the coloured sand to take home. This sombre celebration of life should be a fitting end to the 2011 edition of Accès Asie.
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