My name is David Anderson, and I am here to talk about my experiences in Central Asia and India. One of the questions asked to me was whether the “hippie trail”—within quotes—influenced my travel to Asia at the time in the ’70s. Well, I guess there were a lot of hippies there, but for me it wasn’t really that. I grew up with a thousand National Geographics in my bedroom, and my joy was to get up and look at them every day and look at all the exotic places in the world. So in the ’70s, rather than going on to higher education, I went to Asia.
I helped a friend drive a truck from Istanbul to Lahore in Pakistan. He was not a hippie; he was a South African–Asian going to school in Sweden. So there were six of us in this bus—yes, there was a hippie, I remember. But it was a great circus travelling across Asia all the way through Istanbul in the winter, Turkey in the winter with snow chains, Iran during the Shah, and finally to Afghanistan in a state that is pretty much original—still very much a system of old, futile rule; very much a place of colour and honour; and strong people, people who came from the mountains. And there were some problems with the hippies sometimes because North Americans did arrive in Afghanistan and didn’t quite get that idea of strength that they gave.
So I spent a long time in Afghanistan. To me, part of my joy of travelling in Central Asia was markets. I think I had gotten bit by the bug when I first arrived in Turkey and went through the Grand Bazaar. The colours, the smells, the action made me think, “This is where I want to be,” so I went to all these bazaars all the way to Afghanistan. And they were very interesting. Some days in the heat, you couldn’t see the meat for the flies, and the dust, and the thousands of people roaming around trying to sell something they would like the white man to buy.
So other than falling in love with the countryside and the crafts and the handwork that the people spend hours and hours and hours and days and days upon—whether it be weaving a rug or embroidering a suzani or making something that they would make to give down through their family as a family heirloom—behind all that craft is all the people, the people who are wonderful people, who have this wonderful patience, who have a different understanding of the way the world functions than we do.
And when you come from the West, I suspect one of the largest mistakes that we do sometimes is we come to the East looking to see what is the same as the West, and it doesn’t really work that way: they’ve been around a lot longer than us, and they have a culture that is deeper, larger, and more expansive than our Western culture. If someone says, “Well, what should I take when I go to the East?” I always say two things: you should take patience—you should take a suitcase full of patience—and forget about everything else. Because the way that we run our lifestyle, the speed at which the Western lifestyle works, is not the same. We have a tendency to like to impose that on everyone. But it is not the way it works.
Granted, now in India, which I just came back from a few weeks ago, I think the statistic is there are 750-million cellphones in India. This has changed the entire way that the Indian culture functions. I think you have to embrace them for what they are, and be in the moment for what they are, because sometimes we will get very impatient with people and it doesn’t work. It doesn’t happen. You don’t see what’s around you, you don’t meet the people, and you don’t enjoy the experience of being in the East. It is very different, and it is exotic, and it’s everything that was in those National Geographics when I was a kid.
I have a store, and there are a lot of people who come to my store. And there are some who are very keen to understand the background and history, and I like to give a history of a piece—where it was made and how it was made and who it was made by. No, Toronto is a very open place, and a lot of people are very interested. And I think in our culture of mass production, you think that people like to have a background in the history of something that came from someone’s hand. So I think that in itself opens up understanding of a culture.
But, of course, there are some who say, “It’s pink, and I want blue.” And it’s not anything other than the colour or whether it matches my decor. So we both have different types of personalities, and some people in Toronto are interested because Toronto is a multicultural city, with many cultures in here, with many talents from their homelands, and that should be celebrated, you know? We should take that and involve it in our own Canadian culture and come up with something that is vibrant and new on its own.
Interviewer: Natalia Nekrassova, Curator
Other people present: Adrienne Costantino, Curatorial Assistant
Date and time of interview: Friday, March 21, 2014, 9:15–10 a.m.
Location of interview: Textile Museum of Canada, 55 Centre Avenue, Toronto, Ontario