Goa Re-loaded: Articulating the Regional within the National
Regions play a great role in the formulation of the visual aesthetic culture of a country. However, the modern Indian art history seems to have taken a very partial approach to the regional aesthetics. Often regional aesthetics transcends itself and crosses the boundaries to become a part of the deterministic ‘national’ culture only when it deliberately hides what is peculiar to the ‘regional’ and takes part in the discourse of migration where in a field of power games the hegemonic aesthetics conditionally accepts the hoodwinked regionalism as ‘one of the’ determinants of the larger culture. The causes of it could be traced both in a lack and abundance; of power and opportunity. While the regions lack in power and opportunity, the centre revels in abundance and this feel of abundance is often framed by calculative and strategic exclusions of the regional voices.
Hence, an artist who works from the regions within a large country like India has to address a sort of double exclusion. On the one hand, he/she has to fight the existing systems within the regions that do not care for preparing adequate powers and opportunities to proliferate the artistic activities or for taking them beyond the boundaries of the specific regions. And on the other hand when the very same artist comes out for an occasional search for opportunity and visibility, he/she finds him/herself in a predetermined category of being called a ‘regional’ artist. That puts the artist into a peculiar situation despite the freedom(s) made available to him by the cyberspace. Either he/ she has to accept the fate of being a regional artist or migrate to the power centers only to down play the regional flavors seen expressed in his/her works of art.
During the market boom that had touched the Indian art scene also a few years back, there had been a few attempts by the galleries and curators in India to move around and find out new voices from the regional areas. This in fact was not an attempt to incorporate the till then neglected regional art within the mainstream. On the contrary, it was a situation created out of necessity pertaining to the demand-supply logic. The voracious market demanded more and more art wares and those artists who were living in the mainstream cities both as permanent citizens and perpetual migrants, were not able to meet up to the huge demand and its variety so it became pertinent for the galleries to hunt for fresh faces and fresh approaches in art. This was the only time when the regional artist got their long due respect. However, today reality is such that most of the regional artists find it difficult to get their works seen and voices heard within the mainstream engagement and negotiations of art practice in India.
It would be interesting to delve a bit deeper into this issue of artists being categorized and sidelined as regional artists. First of all we need to ask what constitutes this notion of ‘regional’ artists. Secondly, we should ask what exactly is regional in the regional artists. Thirdly, it is all the more important to see whether the regional specifications and indications that we see in the form of metaphors and images in their works have the capacity to address larger issues that often believed to have been addressed by the mainstream art. Last but not the least, we should also see how the ‘scale and visibility’ of a work of art produced in any part of the country determining its ability to transcend its regional affiliations and cross the borders to become the mainstream.
Addressing these issues in a reverse order, I would like to take up the scale and visibility of a work of art in the regional areas. As we have already spoken about the lack in infrastructure and opportunities, often artists in the regions satisfy themselves by making small scale works and also resist themselves from experimenting too much with mediums and spaces. Visibility again becomes an issue as there are not too many avenues for them to get written about or discussed about. Though today there are social networking sites through which they could proliferate their images, the real satisfaction that comes by exhibiting the real works in the real spaces still avoid them. The solutions for these shortcomings could be sought through the interventions of the state owned and private owned facilities by infrastructural developments as well as facilitating an atmosphere conducive to constructive criticism. Besides, they need to be linked up to the art venues elsewhere in the mainstream spaces that respect their works and give them due attention.
Often it is said that the metaphors and images which the regional artists often employ in developing their works do not have the capacity to address the larger issues because most of them tend to be too rooted. However, if we take a deep look at the works produced in the regional areas, we could understand that they are the works that strongly represent deeper issues pertaining to the world as they put themselves into the analysis of the micro cultures and micro politics in a detailed manner. It is quite ironic that many fail to see these micro worlds getting represented and debated in these works. These micro units of expressions constitute the ‘regional’ in the regional works of art. They have a different complexion, tonal value and a different narrative structure. Avoiding them from the major discourse of art would eventually facilitate the death of the political stance that any work of art should take as a cultural entity.
Curiously, regionalism is always pitted against the ‘nationalism’. Politically speaking regionalism is a voice that helps the micro narratives and micro units of expressions from being subsumed and submerged by the mainstream therefore popularly palatable voices and expressions. In the larger rubric of nationalism, regions are put into the service of stance of the nation. In fact the ideological nationalism always finds its survival in the constant negotiations with the regions. Politically speaking, ideological nationalism is always threatened by the volatile regionalism. Only in the art scene we see how the ideological national narratives take an upper hand and vehemently put down the regional expressions and voices.
In my view, migration is not the only solution to find a voice in the aesthetic mainstream. Artists who are working from the regions could find a voice if there are concerted efforts to showcase their works within the enhanced infrastructural possibilities of the regions as well as linking up them meaningfully with the art scene outside such places. However, such reaching out cannot be termed as the subaltern coming in search of the mainstream’s approval, instead such efforts should be viewed as the celebration of the micro narratives, therefore regional expressions that in fact silently contribute to the building up of our national culture as well as the critical discourses pertaining to it.
‘Goa Re-loaded’ has sixteen artists from Goa and most of them are exhibiting in a city like Delhi for the first time. It is not because that they were reluctant to come out of their safe havens and confront the so called mainstream ‘national’ visual culture. Though there is a fair amount of complacency seen amongst the regional artists thanks to the comfort zones of climate, language and food, Goan artists always see themselves as the producers of a ‘different’ culture and this distinct culture always find its interface with the international culture thanks to the location specificity of Goa that attracts tourists from all over the world throughout the year. Thanks to its peculiar geographic location, its cultural variety, colonial past and the confluence of various cultural dynamics in the contemporary times, most of the artists in Goa find it necessary to be ‘here and now’ than ‘out there’ and in the mainstream. They get their audience, they make their dialogues with people coming from all over the world and they lead a very interesting life full of spirit and sunlight.
The conflict lines appear when the geographical location itself changes its socio-cultural and politico-economic complexions. When such determining factors of daily life change in a big and at times drastic way, the artists cannot live in their complacent cocoons. Off late, the Goan art has gone far beyond its own defined territories of portraying a varied but happy culture. Today, in the contemporary context, Goa is a cauldron of several issues that range from the environmental to the religious, to the existential to the sexual, the celebratory to the condemnatory aspects. Negotiating these pulls and pushes has become a major aspect in the works of the Goan artists. It has become inevitable for them to move out, articulate and engage with the so called national culture and challenge the set patterns of the aesthetical understanding.
It is pertinent to ask what exactly defines these artists as Goan artists with all the regional specificities. When Goa is not an isolated place with minimum influence of the international commodity culture, how they still hold on to the regional flavor. Even if they do so, does it have a political and sociocultural reason? Or are they the victim of non-exposure? Answers to these questions could be seen in the works exhibited in this show. I would not argue that this show clearly and definitively stands for the ‘real’ Goan art. Nor do I say that this show is ‘the’ cross section of the Goan art scene today. My idea is to cull out a set of artists, in agreement with the participants, and their expressions, as varied as possible, and see how their affinities for style, materials and size, and their peculiar imageries ‘showcase’ the ‘regional’ imagery of Goa. My intention is also to underline the fact that even if a land is exposed to the international influences, it could hold on to its own narrative techniques, images and metaphors in a very political way.
Anthropomorphic figures, strange creatures, mutated animals and birds recurrently appear in the works of many Goan artists. An initial response to such imaginations could take the viewer to the conditioned notions of Surrealism. Artists like Viraj Naik and Vaibhav Kitlekar, however do not view it as a surreal mutation of the familiar to create the strange and bizarre. In Viraj Naik’s works we see a series of masked figures with various facial expressions come as if they were coming out forcefully from a confined zone. The boundaries between the masks and the faces are dissolved to a great extent that we, as onlookers are not able to distinguish between the creature that the character hosts and the character that the creature ultimately turns out to be. In Kitlekar’s works too we see the metamorphosis of the human being into an animal, a Minotaur like figure; the idea of beauty is combined with the idea of bizarre. However, they do not push the viewer away from the zone of mutual gazing. This kind of imaging and imagining comes from habitats and mythical and folkloric narratives of Goa.
The artists who prefer to work in traditional mediums in Goa are invariable caught up with the narratives of the land. They live in that and it cannot be replaced by the standardized allurement of the market and the so called international culture. However, we see how these artists engage with their own history, which is more factual and real than the folkloric narratives and myths. In the works of Pradeep Naik, Sachin Naik and Shripad Gurav, we see how the Goan history becomes a part of the creative imaginations of these artists. For Pradeep Naik, the history of Goa is not just about colonial incursions, battles, cultural settlings, architectural confluences and an unsteadying supply of facts and figures regarding all these. Pradeep Naik envisions the history of Goa through the commemorative and votive sculptures seen strewn across the cemeteries and architectural edifices in Goa. He consistently shows these disfigured statues mutely witnessing the present taking over the past. The twist in the narrative takes place when Pradeep brings forward a surrogate Christ figure repeatedly in his works along with the images of dogs. In these works we see how a contemporary artist in Goa negotiates history and in turn challenged by its own baggage.
Sachin Naik and Shripad Gurav are devoted printmakers. Printmaking has a special place in Goan art scene as the Goa College of Art excels in teaching printmaking and most of the artists in Goa after their graduation tend to set up their own studios with printmaking facilities. While keeping the pedagogic reasons high, I would also argue that these artists find the multiples of works done through the prints more economically viable and the typical Goan market driven by the interested tourists helps the artists to sell these prints in a comfortable price than the original paintings or sculptures. Sachin Naik, living in far off South Goa, negotiates his own subaltern-ness even within the surging ‘internationalism’ of Goa, by capturing the existential man as the centre of his discourse and it is about his figure, as in a popular calendar of iconic heroes, that the incidents of the daily life take place. With very detailed strokes and marks. Shripad Gurav also keeps the iconic man, the worker, the villager, the one who has gone out of the mainstream Goan life as his hero. It is through his perspective the incidents are narrated.
Ramdas Gadekar in his paintings apparently portrays the people from different walks of Goan life. These simple people with different racial and facial features in fact do not ‘represent’ the Goans in general but a deeper look would reveal that they are the symbols of a common Goan concern; the politician-businessmen nexus that plunders the Goan earth through mindless mining that imbalances the whole Goan ecology besides causing a huge scale of demographic displacement. These iconic people look anxious and their faces replicate the devastated lands of Goa that are cleverly depicted in the background by the artist. Taking off a cue from the lives of the common people, Vitesh Naik places them within the context of a shared experiences and mythological backdrop. Vitesh portrays a group of people seen huddling together in an unspecified space as if they were in an aggressive communion. They look like conspirators of a larger scheme. At the same time seen along with the animals and birds seen abundant in the Goan landscapes, they look like simple people who do not have any hold on the larger schemes of life. To give a mythological connection to these people, Vitesh brings in the image of a dying Christ on the lap of Mother Mary. This Pieta is a suitable imagery culled out from the Christian mythology to metaphorically represent the people of Goa who stand against the social ills and this image becomes intense especially when we see Christianity as a defining backdrop of Goan life.
Goa, in a Santhosh Morajkar’s vision is a liberal space having enough room for conflicting ideas and ideals. But he does not position himself as a commentator of the social ills or problems. Nor does he take the path of celebrations only to say that Goa has the best things to offer to the world. By visualizing Goa as a cauldron of varying ideas, Santhosh materializes his concerns for the land as a very personal fear; the fear of losing one’s virility. The virile imaginary animals in Santhosh’s repertoire of works could be seen as the animals that come back to life from the suppressed feelings of rejection and neglect. These animals, explicitly potent in form, are clad in an idealistic landscape of Goa. They embody the unbridled imagination of Goans who for the time being are stifled by the onslaught of the so called universal cultural invasions. Chaitali Morajkar in a similar vein envisions the essence of Goan women as an anti-stereotype. Generally Goan women are portrayed in the popular narratives as office secretaries and society ladies or women with not so tight morals. Chaitali contests this stereotypical view through the bold presentation of the woman’s body as architectural forms, typical to the Goan urban scapes, receptive to the external influences at the same time discerning through counter gazes. She challenges the onlooker’s eyes and their desire for the Goan ‘women’ with her bold paintings and drawings.
The life of a common man or woman has never failed to inspire the Goan artists. Like many masters of our modern times, the local has always been a source of inspiration for the Goan artists. The paintings of Shilpa Naik and Harshada Sonak stand clear evidence to this argument. In Shilpa’s Naik’s works one sees the most familiar vegetable images enlarged to iconic forms. Through these images, Shilpa connects and negotiates two different worlds that a woman engages in her daily lives; the domestic and the public space. She considers these vegetable forms as a part of her daily life and a closer look would reveal that these vegetables are shaped up by innumerable number of ants’ images. Ants, for Shilpa are the hardworking creatures that constitute a world of labor without thinking about profit but only subsistence. She ironically draws parallel between the status of women with that of the ants. At the same she draws a world map using the same ants’ images there by suggesting the possibility of women making a world of their own.
Harshada Sonak has been a chronicler of the people of Goa for quite some time. She picks up the very peculiar characters from the daily lives and gives them an iconic representation making them the protagonists of a very private mythology. In Harshada’s canvases they change their quotidian selves into those of characters who live in exquisite literary narratives. These portraits of women by Harshada do not tell their stories as ordinary people but as people who have secret gardens in their minds where they do not allow free entry to strangers. They engage with the public world in a different scale mainly as witnesses. In their silent witnessing, Harshada tells the story of women who are caught between the limbo of the public and private selves.
Siddharth Gosavi and Vijay Bhandare are two artists who are interested in the sublime aspects of a philosophical life and they attempt to manifest them through displaced images from the topic of their discussion. Using pointillist technique and fineness of strokes, Siddharth Gosavi builds up the images of tuskers. They look like the decorative portraits of elephants that we generally seen in the tourist markets. However, Siddharth here attempts to create a minute landscape in the form of an elephant’s portrait. Vijay Bhandare considers that the whole world has originated from a seed; for him seed is the fundamental idea of creation. The seeds, according to him contain both the energies of creation and violence. It has erotic possibilities as well as regeneration capacities. By continuous depiction of seeds in both the real and imaginary situations, Vijay evokes the very idea of life as contained in the micro worlds of seeds.
The imaginary of the ‘local or the regional’ does not end in the mutated anthropomorphic images when it comes to the works of the Goan artists. Aadhi Vishal conceives his creative world around an eternal muse who inspires him to think about his existence and circumstances. The centralized iconic image of a beautiful woman in Aadhi’s works metaphorically stands in for the creative inspiration. She is a divine presence as far as the artist is concerned and she masquerades as various characters. Aadhi looks at the Goan society from a critic’s point of view and the spectacular scenes that he sees around him finds their critical representations in the various guises of this iconic young woman in his works. As this icon becomes so central to the works of Aadhi, she also represents the universe and mother earth and she could disguise herself both as a mythical character and a contemporary girl.
Kedar Dhondu’s works should be treated as visualization of a radical thinking about the society and the atrocities committed by the state and its ideological apparatuses. The large works that Kedar does, especially the one that we have in the show could be seen as ‘Mahabharata’ in a miniature form. Kedar’s idea is to represent the idea of life in a liberal economic situation. Within this late capitalistic logic, though life looks quite celebratory, a closer look would reveal that the state and its ideological apparatuses are making censorial incursions within the private and public life of people. Kedar’s Goa is a cross-section of the liberal urban space where everything takes place at once leaving no room for focusing on the particular. In this simultaneity, Kedar showcases a vast variety of incidents right from police atrocities to rapes, from love to death. Also Kedar allegorically visualizes the contemporary world as a world of the hunting dogs that always pounce upon the innocent and unsuspecting people.
Wheels, tyres, progress and the whole idea of ‘occupying’ inspire the artist in Subodh Kerkar to do a series of works using the used rubber tyres as his primary material. Tyres, according to Subodh are the ‘medium’ and ‘message’ of the contemporary world. The boundaries are crossed, terrains are scaled, people are shifted and goods are transported because the whole of land transportations are carried out ‘on’ rubber tyres. While celebrating the possibilities of the tyre pieces, Subodh finds out various shapes this material as an artistic medium could bring forth. He makes a contemporary ‘lingam’ (a phallic figure) out of the tyres with the light caps as the tip, giving away an eerie sense of eroticism to the vertical structure. Also he allegorically brings forth the idea of travel and its desires and fantasies by making a magic carpet out of the tyre sheets. Within this discourse of material and forms, Subodh incorporates the idea of occupying the spaces the measuring of distances as a mode through which the neo-imperialism makes its incursions as well as the counter imperialist acts make their presence felt within the discourse of politics, culture and economics of our times.
My association with the Goan artists is almost three years old and I could proudly say that I am one of those few curators in this country who has traveled all over Goa with an intention to visit the maximum number of artists in their studios. With the help of artists like Subodh Kerkar, Viraj Naik and Pradeep Naik, in the past I had done some moves to do a national show within Goa with the sole intention to bridge the gap between the regional and the national. This show helps me to articulate my ideas about the regional and the national using the works of these sixteen artists as a point of departure. Though I do not claim that this show presents a cross section of the Goan art scene today, I could say that despite the omissions, this show could capture the essence of the contemporary Goan art scene.
Johny ML, New Delhi, January 2012
'Style-Space-Site-Sign' ~ Negotiating the Urban Siites in the Context of an Art Residency. Mentored & Curated by Johny ML
a two men show by: Ajay Narayan & A.K. Douglas Curated by: Pranamita Borogohain & Vikash Nand Kumar
Movement, Medium, Metaphor - a laboratory of thoughts and materials. Curated by: Georgina Maddox
Participating Artist : Bini Roy | Kirti Chandak | B. Padma Reddy | Shah Mosmi H | T. Rathi Devi | Rituu A. Kamth | Ruchika Wason Singh | Sajitha R. Shankar Conceptualised by: T.K. Hareendran