The year in culture

A selection of cultural events around the world, one a month, for those desperate for distraction



Jaipur Literary Festival, India

Simply “Jaipur” to everybody with a literary connection to India and beyond, it has spawned many imitators as well as spin-offs in London and Boulder, Colorado. But there is still no beating the main event, a sprawling series of tents and pavilions filled with speakers and hundreds of thousands of hangers-on in the Diggi Palace of Rajasthan’s capital. Mill about by day to take in speakers, writers, Bollywood stars, politicians and more. For 2018 Anne Waldman, David Hare and Ha-Joon Chang are promised. At least one scandal is guaranteed per fest.


Saidaiji Eyo Hadaka Matsuri, Okayama, Japan

One of the stranger events in the cultural calendar. More than 500 years old, it sees thousands of men wearing only a loincloth purify themselves in water—in February outdoor temperatures—before gathering to await the throwing of shingi, lucky wooden rods, down to the crowds in the dark. Though foreigners are not strictly barred from joining in, it may be best enjoyed from a distance. 


Cézanne portraits, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, United States

America’s capital will brighten with the arrival of the studies by Paul Cézanne. The man Picasso called “the ­father of us all” painted 200 portraits, and this show is the first to focus on them. It travels from Paris via London to Washington. The haunted eyes of these paintings—including an arresting self-portrait—will make viewers see Cézanne, commonly considered a bridge from impressionism to early-20th-century abstraction, in a new light.


Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Australia

With Edinburgh’s summer fringe festival and Montreal’s Just for Laughs, the month-long Melbourne comedy festival rounds off the world’s three biggest events devoted mainly to laughter. Though Australians have never been shy about having a giggle at their own expense, Melbourne is now a largely international shindig, attracting 2,000 acts from more than a dozen countries.


Karl Marx’s 200th birth anniversary, Trier, Germany

Whatever one’s feelings about his ideas, Karl Marx ranks among the most important thinkers of the past two centuries. And so in May his home country—a portion of which suffered 40 years of Marxism-Leninism—will celeb­rate the 200th anniversary of his birth. Four museums in Trier will open exhibition spaces commemorating both Marx’s personal life and his writing and ideas. European leftists, who have been on the political back foot in recent years, could get a morale boost from the pilgrimage.


Boi Bumbá, Parintins, Brazil 

You are not likely to be just passing through Parintins, in the Brazilian state of Amazonas. Hundreds of miles from the regional capital by riverboat, it may nonetheless be worth heading to for the festival of Boi Bumbá. Each June two teams, Caprichoso and Garantido, gather in a stadium built specially for the festival, to see which can best retell a tale of a mythical ox beast through costumes, singing and dancing. The entire town is split between long-time partisans of each side, and even to wear the wrong colour (red or blue) in the wrong bit of town is to invite trouble. A brilliantly bonkers festival.


Karlovy Vary Film Festival, Czech Republic

Film-lovers have a year-long calendar full of brand-name festivals—Sundance, Cannes, Venice, Toronto, Berlin—to keep them busy. But a gem among them is Karlovy Vary, a spa town in the Czech Republic which hosts its gathering for cinephiles in July. The fare is mostly from central Europe, but the festival is known for drawing early attention to films that will go on to international acclaim.


Festival interceltique, Lorient, France

The Celts once dominated swathes of Europe. Now they form a majority only in isolated bits of the continent’s north and west. But each year their cultural flag-carriers—from Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany and Galicia—reunite in Lorient, in Brittany, to celebrate all things Celtic. Fiddles and pipes, tartans and dancing will abound again in 2018, when Wales will be the country of honour. 


Oceania, Royal Academy of Arts, London, England

Nearly every region of the world has had its art discovered and celebrated by now, but Oceania—the far-flung islands of the Pacific—has yet to bask in the critical sun. The Royal Academy in London aims to change that with what it is billing as the first-ever show to focus on art from New Guinea to Easter Island, starting in September. The show coincides with the 250th anniversary of the RA’s founding in 1768, the same year James Cook set out for the region from England on his ship Endeavour


Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, San Francisco, United States

Few things are free or even cheap in San Francisco any more, but Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a music festival held in the first weekend of each October, is an exception. It was funded by Warren Hellman, a local venture capitalist who died in 2011, and who famously turned down outside corporate sponsors. The festival mostly brings the eponymous upbeat fiddle-and-mandolin music to the park, but the “Hardly” was added to its name in 2004 to highlight that it had also featured artists, like Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle, who cross over into other genres, notably country. 


Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi

It could be all over by the time the Formula One season draws to a close in Abu Dhabi, but if it’s still a tight contest then this will be the place for dedicated motor-racing fans to be. This particular Grand Prix is known almost as much for its after-race party, which has enticed everyone from Paul McCartney to the hip-hop artist Drake to headline the prestigious race-day concert, as for the cars.


Qatar National Museum, Qatar

Qatar may have been isolated diplomatically by some of its Gulf Arab neighbours, but the sheikhdom will excite architecture fans around the world with the inauguration, scheduled for December, of the new Qatar National Museum (though museum projects in the region have tended to suffer delays; this one was originally supposed to be ready in 2016). The building, designed by a French architect, Jean Nouvel, and inspired by the local desert rose, features rounded, sand-coloured shapes connecting at odd angles and surrounds the old palace of the founder of Qatar. Rising from the sea, with bridges connecting it with the shore, it is already a Doha landmark. Some are calling the new museum the most beautiful building in the Middle East. Which means that, if all goes according to schedule, the year will end at least on one high note. 

VIDEO>> What will be the top ten stand-out moments in 2018?
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