Thursday, June 26, 2008

Goa Art--Fantasy Boat and other Journies

Goa Art—Fantasy Boat and other journeys

When in India we talk about the colonial period we reckon only the British Imperialism. But there was another—the Portuguese. As India’s riches were discovered by the West through sea voyages, the war devastated Europe looked for raw materials far afield. Different European powers sailed around the world to capture and ‘colonise’. They had been sailing (e.g. Vasco de Gama to Kerala and Konkan) to Indian ports as traders and earned great profits.

It was in 1510 that the Portuguese armada invaded and occupied Goa.

It was a much longer period of Portuguese occupation—451 years to be exact! Such long time forced presence brought about influences on religion, cuisine, music, dance, language, architecture, art, crafts, festivals, rituals.

The present day Goa is potpourri of a mixed cultural history that can not be undone. We do not grade cultures as higher or lower. Margaret Mead the famous anthropologist says, "We have stood out against any grading of cultures in hierarchical systems which would place our own culture at the top and place the other cultures of the world in a descending scale according to the extent that they differ from ours.... We have stood out for a sort of democracy of cultures, a concept which would naturally take its place beside the other great democratic beliefs."

The Goa we know is the land of swaying palms, coastal carnival, and sun saturated Konkani landscapes, mango groves, hot vindaloo, prawn zacuti, wines and Feni. Fertilised by cross cultural interactions Goa is like no other land. Catholic Portuguese at the time of Inquisition did wrought tremendous atrocities on Hindus and Muslims. There were predominant catholic areas and the most famous artist son of Goa Francis Newton Souza belonged to the Christian Bardez. All his life his art carried the duality of his colonial and native sensibility. His art is located in the landscapes and the Goan life and religion.

Art affects life and life influences art. Tripat Kalra of Gallery Nvya New Delhi and curator Alka Pandey came together to create a theme exhibition called Bhasa showcasing contemporary Goan artists. We have regional theme exhibitions aplenty. Recently Rupali Gupta of Art elements launched a Bengal exhibition and Uma Jain of Dhoomimal Gallery organised a Madhya Pradesh art exhibition to commemorate anniversary of Jagdish Swaminathan. The visual artists are influenced by the culture, the religion, the rituals, the traditions, history, myths, and geography. The present exhibition has artists who hail from Goa and may/ not be living there. We know that cultural influences are also consciously appropriated by artists. In Western art the influence of African ritual/totem art was prominent in the Picasso’s Cubism (the sitting figure in Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon) and intense colours in the Henry Matisse’s oeuvre. Paul Gauguin painted the primitive and Tahiti was his place of work and inspiration. Popularity of Japanese serigraphs in Europe inspired the flat vibrant colours of artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Degas and Henri Toulouse- Lautrec Thus if an artist wishes to borrow from a culture she/he is free to do so. But then there are subterranean influences on artist as part of growing up in a land. It is this aspect of creative influences that this exhibition presumably explores.

There are 19 artists in the exhibition. Their works range from paintings to photography, pen and ink drawings, etchings and sculptures. It is good to have such a variety of medium in the exhibition. What is remarkable in the exhibition held at Stainless Gallery Delhi is the predominance of Surrealism/fantasy. Of all the artists 8 have worked variants of fantasy in a highly individualised language. But the selected artworks seem to suggest that no artist from Goa is working in abstract mode. The great abstractionist Vasudev S. Gaitonde was a Goan though born in Nagpur. The ripe experience and long journey of another abstract artist Prafulla Dhanukar offer the soft poetry of the land. Younger artists like Suhas shilker are the new emerging voices in the field of abstract art. All works in the exhibition are form based. Young (b.1975) Priyadarshan Salgaonkar’s Untitled etchings of animals, birds, snakes, fishes transformed in a strong cryptic expression carry a magico/mystical quality and at least I felt in them power akin to William Blake’s etchings. His Jogger’s Park has strong theatrical quality. It sounds more like theatre of the absurd with images like paper cut-outs. The work is not without humour and the pigs, dogs, hen and chicken and cats nestling close to humans enhance it. Shripad Gurav etching Behind the Curtain is evocative of mysteries that are out side of rationalist constructs. Santosh Morajkar using watercolour and pencil on paper creates hybrid images that seem to have human bust but are transformed into fishes and other strange forms. He embeds the human busts with erotic fantasized imagery. It is the free play of the id in Freudian sense that these images are released from our subconscious and are a rich source of artistic creativity. Viraj Naik working in rich paint body using oils creates awe-inspiring imagery that revels in the illogic of logical a la Salvador Dali. A goat with three human heads and flying mouse with wings like a butterfly and other such images emerge from his creative ability to re-form given realty by rehashing it by quirky combinations. Theodre M. Mesquita is another practioner of the art of unexpected juxtaposition so much a part of iconography of Surrealism. His very strong understanding of the rendition of figurative adds a realistic sinewy touch to his oeuvre. His yellow male human figure with blue phallus sailing in the watery bubbles in ether while a cat sit with her back to the viewer and a coiled mini serpent floats above offers metaphysical reality of being and beyond. His works not easy to decipher at first offer some clues. He uses a passionate red on the ground that elevates to tinged blue in the ether. The material, physical ground is the rendered in red and the spiritual—as one rises—is blue. Hanuman Kambli works his paintings in overlapping crowded space. He works the simultaneity of dream-scape imagery where images and objects proliferate. There are elements of social concern hidden in his imagery. In his So What! There is an image drawn in the Picasso’s style in Guernica where the mother has her baby on her stomach and a lance is piercing the child probably a reference to child foeticide. He draws images using the folklore and myth—a satyr jostles for space with crawling scorpions. By using a web of lines he creates a visual confusion of sorts on his pictorial space so useful for depicting a dream world. Using hatching lines he draws human figures that appear to give feeling of embroidery. Kambli has wedded painting and print making techniques. This he owes to his art education—a B.F.A. in fine art and M.F.A. in print making.

Chaitali Morajkar and Querozito de Souza are two artists who view Prakriti with deep erotic feminine sensibility. Chaitali works are highly sensual and use subtle symbolism of body kissing orb (sun?), needle, and fishes transformed into humans. The element of the feminine softness shines in rendition of the curvilinear female figures and decorative motifs like flowers and arabesque.

Querozito de Souza uses a more simplified direct meshing of the body in the infinity of Nature or space. He uses a style akin to etchings to create his human (female) figures. The figures as metaphor of Nature dominate the pictorial space. He also regales in the poetic sensuality of Nature seen as feminine.

When I confronted Rajan Fulari’s works in the exhibition it evoked a literary universe of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen—the 19th century British novelist. Fulari born in Bardez did B.F.A. form Goa College of Art and his Master’s degree in printmaking from M.S. University Baroda. Presently living and working in Delhi he is Print Studio Incharge in L.K.A. Garhi. His intaglio triptych called Playing with Senses juxtaposes four senses (seeing, touching, tasting, and smelling) by zoomed in images of sensory body parts. He beautifully combines smelling and touching by showing a butterfly seated on a nose. He has an image of mouth done in pulsating red invoking to me very hot and spicy Goan food. In the third image an eye in profile cuts through a rhythmic female outline on which sit a crouching human figure. Thus in his own subtle way he introduces seeing beauty in female shape. Fulari is clever with poetic understatements and it shows in his works! In his acrylics on canvas—Object of Desire-Heart and Object of Desire—Brain he depicts the traditional duality which Jane Austen in her novel tried to resolve. He uses effectively part torsos of woman and man and the organs of feeling and reasoning –heart and brain in a nearly flat pictorial space. Fulari thus uses senses and sensibility in the context of human relations.

Antonio E Costa brings a dash of primitivism as against rational-logical elements in visual creativity. His free innocuous dabs of free floating colours (water colour?) eke out primitive simple forms. His painting titled—Housing around in Goa—I think a typographical mistake has crept in. It could be Horsing around in Goa. This work has an ithyphallic figure and an adumbrated animal figure. His near abstract landscape Dream Reflections in Goa is a marvel of minimalist handling and opacity and transparency. If you are familiar with Ram Kumar’s rich chromatic sinewy abstract landscapes Antonio brings an alternate soft whispering rendition of the same. He is frugal with his means and imbues the landscape with silence of the infinite. I read in his life sketch that he was born in Kenya therefore probably the African cultural ethos had an influence on him.

Rajeshree Thakkar uses the ploy of figure repetition more like moving film frames and her work appropriately is titled Stencil Birth. Figure repetition started with Egyptian art and it helps to create a rhythm and highlights the form. Vitesh N Naik follows European realism in style. Similarly his themes like the Last Supper and card players owe them to –Christianity and Europe (Paul Cezanne’s Card Players).

Sonia R. Sabharwal presently seems to seek inspiration in Tantric art and decorativeness. But I am more impressed by her earlier works depicting Goan women and life. Even her animals have an eerie primeval power. Yolanda de Sousa plays more with surface, texture and relief giving out neon like effect. Her figures lonely or in reverie carry cutting humour and symbolism e.g. from the eye of surrealistically rendered face a swastika hangs by a chain or a human figure with fan like blinker on eye has an earring with pierced fishes hanging down. She makes effective use calligraphic style to evoke mysterious unknown. Wilson D’ Souza’s drawing is done with good skill and harks back to academism. There are two photo artists Roy Sinai and Subodh Kerkar. Roy is in search of time past like (Marcel Proust) and uses cemeteries as memories of ephemeral life. Kerkar on the other hand imposes manmade shapes on the untrammelled infinite sea thus making a poetic statement of human-Nature mutuality. His sculpture of a boat symbolically talks about the desire to sail to unknown seas. Boat is the human being who journeys from one world to another as in Indian mythology. But on seeing this work in the exhibition I was also reminded of Rimbaud’s long poem Le Bateau Ivre (The Drunken Boat) a metaphor for humans who sail to unknown lands. Vamona Navelkar exhibits ink drawings in the exhibition. He uses a subconscious auto style to draw a continuous tableau of human figures without lifting the pen. Nirupa Naik uses point and dash style to paint images of devotion and faith.

Many of the artists in the exhibition combine painting and print making since they trained in both the media and have used it to aesthetic advantage and expression. In the end I would like to share my personal relation with Goa.

My maternal grandmother Dr. Subhadra Anagarika (nee Prem Dasi) was part a group of freedom fighters who arrived in Goa from Delhi in August 1955 to fight for freedom of Goa from Portuguese yoke of more than 450 years. Many were injured including my grandmother and quite few lost their lives in the firing on peaceful satyagrahis. It’s a joy to have a free Goa where soul and spirit soar higher and yet higher and art and culture flourishes untamed.

Victor Vijay Kumar

Painter, Assemblage artist

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