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Agni Foundation Sets Up First SA Distinguished Art Hall Of Fame In Austin, TX

By Sumaiya Malik

On Saturday, September 7, Agni Foundation for the Arts hosted An Affair: Un-Gala to support South Asian arts at Asian American Resource Center. The foundation recognized all those artists, supporters of the arts, youth artists and parents in Austin, with whose efforts South Asia has developed a niche in the fabric of Austin.

Artists like Anuradha Naimpally, Oliver Rajamani, Nagavalli, Usha Akella and Farid Nizami were placed in the SA Art Hall Of Fame list along with six others. Some came on the stage to say a few words about the growth of South Asian arts in Austin. Others walked up to receive their plaques.

Set up by long time Austinite and owner of Agni Dance, Prakash Mohandas, Agni Foundation is the first South Asian Arts Foundation (501 c3) that supports South Asian artists financially for their work via community performance fund to empower the next generation of South Asian.

In his introductory speech, Mohandas said, “This recognition is now long due in the South Asian Arts Space. The Foundation honored 30 artists in four categories: South Asian Distinguished Artist Hall of Fame, Special Contribution to SA Arts, Youth Artists and Parent Honorees.

Mohandas recognized the efforts of all the honorees that have given their time effort and in many cases money to support the arts. The foundation invited young dancer, singer and actress Neha Sukumar to be the keynote speaker. A Bharatanatyam classical dancer with training in Ballet, Tap, Jazz, Kathak and Odissi, Neha completed her Bachelor of Arts undergraduate studies in Theatre and Dance at the University of Texas. Neha was crowned Miss Teen Bollywood Austin in 2012 and has continued to perform in pageants and programs. Sukumar talked about her struggle to be recognized in her own community as someone with a career in the arts.

Honorees inducted in the South Asian Distinguished Artist Hall of Fame: Gina Lalli - Dance (Posthumous)

Anu Naimpally - Dance

Vinitha Subramanian - Dance

Gourisankar Karmakar - Music

Indrajit Banerjee - Music

Ghulam Farid Nizami - Music

Oliver Rajamani - Music

Nagavalli - Music

Usha Akella - Poetry/Writing

Krishna Sankar - Theater

Amitava Sarkar - Photography/Visual Art

Rama Tiru - Photography/Visual Art

2019 Special contribution to South Asian Arts

Alka Bhanot, Ann Ciccolella,Jakes Srinivasan, Jiaa Jabbar, Jignesh Patel, Saurabh Pradhan, Seema Govil

Sumaiya Malik, Susan Malik

Vishal Dave

Youth Artists awarded included Neha Sukumar, Faraz Nizami, Swati Yarlagadda, Srivi Balaji, and Shragvi Balaji, and special surprise Parent Honorees include Rupa Balaji and Balaji Narasimhan.

Bharat Natyam artist and educator Anu Naimpally needs no introduction. Being the only South Asian to be inducted in the Austin Arts Hall of Fame, Anu has managed to thread the South Asian culture into the fabric of Austin. From teaching Bharat Natyam and using it in her productions in stories that make an impact on humanity at large be it immigrants, refugees or climate change. She gave credit where its due and talked about the efforts of Bharat Natyam star Gina Lalli who has passed away.

Oliver Rajamani, another cross community Roma ambassador continues to establish ties thorugh music. He has created a sound of his own with the historic threads of Indian/Gypsy folk, Romani and Texas cultures and music while bringing recognition to the historical Indian origins of Romani people. South Asian nightingale, Nagavalli, and poet Usha Akella received not only their awards but also those for their friends.

Farid Nizami, an ustad of high caliber belonging to the family of Tansen, an official musician vocalist and instrumentalist in Mughal King Akbar’s court (16th century), suggested that parents send their kids to school with official classical music training because that becomes the base of any music.

The list of honorees was long but the evening went by quickly. One could not help but notice the transformation of AARC with purple lighting and rhythmic fabric swags adorning the ceiling. Gold chairs arranged in semi circular fashion where everyone seated could see all guests and the stage showed the detail the hosts went to. Dhoom Party rental by Vishaal Dave (another honoree) went above and beyond in decoration.

Guests enjoyed a vegetarian meal and refreshments, and photographs by Jay Jayasuriya (@jayjayasuriya). Musical performances entertained the guests till late. For more information about the foundation, please visit the foundation’s Facebook page:

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