The exception is the organisation that formed the blueprint for Asia House’s philosophy, the Asia Society, founded in New York in 1956 thanks to an endowment and a permanent collection from the Rockefeller family. Both Asia House and the Asia Society provide a platform from which the public – business leaders, diplomats, visiting ministers of state, artists, curators, filmmakers, authors and students – can come together and debate the most relevant, substantive issues of our time.
What makes Asia House unique is its base – London. An international hub, the UK capital boasts a much longer history of links with Asia than other cities, something that makes Asia House programming deeply significant to the fabric of life here. One might assume that Asia House was established many centuries ago due to this long history. In actual fact, the need for an organisation like Asia House was identified by visionary retired British diplomat Sir Peter Wakefield as recently as 1996, and it celebrates its fifteenth anniversary this year. He saw the importance of London having a dynamic organisation where people could further understand a continent going through major changes and set to dominate the twenty-first century both economically and politically.
Roddy Gow, Chief Executive of Asia House, carries on Sir Peter’s ambition and believes firmly in a multi-faceted approach to engaging with Asia. ‘To effectively do business in a country, one must understand all the manifestations of its culture,’ he says, ‘from contemporary film and literature, to the economy, policies and lifestyles of its people.’ Without a complete understanding, true engagement is impossible. To this end, Asia House programming focuses on three key areas: culture, public policy, and business. And, in this anniversary year, there is a wide array of programmes to celebrate.
Asia House is known for its excellent arts and cultural programming. Indeed, it holds the only annual pan-Asian literature and film festivals in Europe and the third annual Pan Asia Film Festival, sponsored by Prudential, concluded in March to much acclaim, having showcased cutting edge, independent filmmakers from across Asia.
Looking ahead, the fifth annual Festival of Asian Literature in May, promises to make no less of a splash, with invitees including Colin Thuboron and his new book, To a Mountain in Tibet. The festival will close, meanwhile, with Hanif Kureishi’s Collected Essays (Kureishi will receive the second Asia House Literature Award). At last year’s Literature Festival, William Dalrymple was the recipient of the inaugural Asia House Literature Award, presented at a gala dinner at Claridge’s. This year’s festival runs for two weeks with 16 literary events, including first-time and seasoned authors in discussion with well-known intellectuals and thought-leaders.
Asia House is also fortunate to have a museum-quality gallery space at its Marylebone headquarters. A groundbreaking exhibition entitled, ‘The Tiger in Asian Art: Symbol of Power and Protection’ sponsored by Warburg Pincus and Deutsche Bank, just completed a three month run, with an array of education programmes, as well as a symposium and benefit gala dinner to raise awareness and support for the conservation of this highly endangered species. Asia House’s upcoming exhibition schedule includes a group show of the top emerging talent from South Asia to coincide with the Frieze Art Fair in October and it will again open the festivities of Asian Art in London on 3 November, with the first exhibition in half a century of the work of George Chinnery, (1774-1852), sponsored by HSBC.
Born in London, Chinnery was a well-known portrait painter who arrived in India at the start of the nineteenth century. In two decades there, he painted for Indian maharajas, moguls and the East India Company leaders. He continued to travel east and spent the next two decades – the remainder of his life – in south China, where he was the only Western painter at the time. His watercolours, drawings and paintings – depictions of daily life of colonial India and the China trade – provide an invaluable repository of what life in Asia was like at that time. There will also be a rich education and lecture series to accompany the exhibition.
Of course, superior cultural programming is just one part of what makes Asia House what it is. CEOs, economists, think-tank scholars, academics, ambassadors and ministers of state all play a role at Asia House by sharing their expertise at frequent briefings. Their insight helps others navigate through these delicate times. Moreover, they are a source of inspiration and support to the next generation of leaders. Chaired by Sir John Boyd, the new team at Asia House is steadfast in the belief that the young must be involved as they are the ones who will shape the future. It is a priority to bring together motivated young people and connect them with each other. To accomplish this, a recent Asia House initiative has been established, known as the Young Leaders programme, attracting those who recognise the imperative for constructive dialogue with Asia.
Bringing people together for networking is important if the goal of creating dynamic links with Asia is to be achieved. Asia House stakeholders, HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank and Prudential have helped to launch an initiative to recognise exceptional leadership and to inspire others. In an effort to raise awareness of individuals’ outstanding, contribution to business, humanitarianism and culture, Asia House holds its annual awards dinner to coincide with the Asian Business Leaders Summit. The Asia House Asian Leaders Awards Gala, held each October, is an opportunity to forge ties between the leaders of today and help empower future generations of Asian and British leaders.
This commitment to forging relationships is what drives the annual Asia House Charity Cricket Match as well. This September, Asia House will bring the Afghan National Cricket team to the UK for a series of matches in support of the outreach programmes of the UK charity, Afghan Connection. This excellent organisation supports youth cricket – for boys and girls – in Afghanistan. Events like these deepen the relationship between the UK and Asia.
There is so much going on each day at Asia House – a rich tapestry of all that Asia represents. The public is encouraged to visit and see everything this remarkable organisation has to offer. The aim of Asia House is to educate and inform, thereby creating a better understanding between the people of Asia and Great Britain – and through this understanding, share a better future.