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Sun, Sand and Art: Goa is transforming into a hub for contemporary art and culture

The metamorphosis from tourist to art hub has come about through a combination of local interest and an influx of creative minds.

Written by Sunanda Mehta | New Delhi |
Updated: March 15, 2015 1:00:25 am
One of the many venues of the Goa Photo 2015 exhibition was the Reis Magos Fort (Photos: Express photo by Pavan Khengre) One of the many venues of the Goa Photo 2015 exhibition was the Reis Magos Fort (Photos: Express photo by Pavan Khengre)

In a few days from now, visitors at the Goa airport will be witness to a quiet makeover. Instead of the colourful ads reminding travellers that they have reached the land of sun and sand, there will be 4×8 ft black-and-white mounted photographs – a fisherman’s catch, paddy fields, a bustling market – that showcase the other, lesser-known Goa. It’s a sign of the vibrant and growing contemporary art and culture presence in the state.

Lush paddy fields flank the Aldano Road, about 25 km away from the town centre of Panjim. It leads to a sprawling heritage property. Near the pool in the villa, students try hard to get their angles and lighting right as they set up a cola can for a shoot. Guiding them is Shantanu Sheroy, a photographer known for his work in Bollywood and advertising. Sheroy, along with his wife, erstwhile actress Kimmy Katkar, and their son, relocated from Pune to Goa a year ago to set up The One School.

Gallery Gitanjali Gallery Gitanjali (Photos: Express photo by Pavan Khengre)

With labs full of the latest equipment, this is every budding photographer’s dream. Thirty-six students have enrolled from all over the country for a three-year degree course. “We have also just concluded a photography exhibition that saw The Telegraph, London, give us exclusive rights for 48 hours to post for their Instagram handle,” says Sheroy, as he shows us around. The school hosted the Goa International Photography Festival last month that saw about 5,000 visitors in two weeks. The Goa tourism department chose 41 frames shot by the students to be mounted on the walls of the Dabolim airport.

A few kilometres away, another experiment is slowly taking shape. An artist-in-residence facility has been set up by well-known performance artist Nikhil Chopra, who combines theatre, painting, live art, sculpture and photography in his shows. Like Sheroy, Chopra recently moved to Goa and set up the Heritage Studio that allows painters, writers, musicians, sculptors and theatre artists to live and work at the picturesque premises. Tucked away at the end of a narrow lane in Siolim, it is one of Goa’s best-kept secrets. “It’s barely four months old, but a stream of artistes have been working out of here. They recharge their creative juices or build up a new body of work,” says Kanchi Mehta, art historian, who curated a show for one of Goa’s best known art galleries, Sunaparanta, last December. Mehta, along with her artist husband, said goodbye to Mumbai a year-and-half ago and shifted to Goa to get away from “the city life, the rat race and the traffic”. She calls it the best decision of her life.

Artist Subodh Kerkar Photography students at The One School (Photos: Express photo by Pavan Khengre)

Chopra, Sheroy and Mehta are not the only recent imports to the beach state. They seem to be part of a larger silent movement that has seen creative people gravitate to the state, drawn to its natural beauty — from writer Amitav Ghosh and photographer Dayanita Singh to multi-disciplinary artist Tejal Shah and photographer Prashant Panjiar.

The metamorphosis from tourist to art hub has come about through a combination of local interest and an influx of creative minds. Leading the local brigade is Sunaparanta, the art gallery launched in 2009 by the Salgaoncar family.

Located in a beautiful heritage bungalow in Altinho, and currently hosting “Sensorium”, a festival of arts, literature and ideas that began in December, Sunaparanta has been a torchbearer for the art scene in Goa. Its current festival marks an interaction between photography and other creative mediums, and features the works of stalwarts such as Sooni Taraporevala and Dayanita Singh, as well as those of recently-selected Magnum photographer Sohrab Hura.

Goa also hosted the Goa Photo 2015 exhibition organised by Gallery Gitanjali, probably the most important name in art appreciation in the state today. The festival, which ended last week, was spread over a dozen venues all over the state and showcased the works of a bunch of local, national and international photographers. From the Old Secretariat building in Panjim to the bustling Kala Academy, from the breathtaking Reis Magos Fort (where Mario Miranda’s works are permanently exhibited) to Gallery Gitanjali, portraits explored the theme of “The Other”.

Artist Subodh Kerkar Artist Subodh Kerkar (Photos: Express photo by Pavan Khengre)

Behind it was Miriam Sukhija, a 35-year-old management professional who is a part of the Salgaoncar family. She says she has noticed a growing interest in art over the past couple of years. “For the longest time, all we had was the government-owned Kala Academy, which though very active, was far from adequate. One of the earliest galleries that started was the Flying Dutchman. Then we came up in 1994, followed by Sunaparanta and the Art Chamber. Now,
we have a host of small but niche galleries, a bunch of art festivals, several photo exhibitions and literary festivals. Finally, Goa is reclaiming its heritage,” says Sukhija.

What gives it an edge over Mumbai and Delhi? “In Mumbai, you are lost in the crowd and traffic. In Delhi, the distance and crowds put you off. Pune doesn’t have a big enough market, while Bangalore is going the Delhi way. Goa, on the other hand, has this international audience, a touch of the exotic and is an easygoing place. It has the best possible natural backdrop for photography and painting,” says Sheroy.

One of the most anticipated events this year is the launch of a private art space by artist Subodh Kerkar. He has decided to call it the Museum of Goa or MOG (it means “love” in Konkani). “Our first exhibition will be in November on the theme of the history of Goa,” says Kerkar. Located near Calangute, the art space will focus on contemporary art. “A change is happening, and it is high time it did. The best part is that all of this is happening without any help from the government,” says Kerkar.

Basking in the transformation of the land that produced art giants like FN Souza and VS Gaitonde, are not just artists, but also curators like Apurva Kulkarni. He has been working for three decades, but says that it’s only in the last five years that the money has started to flow. He attributes the change to the interest being taken by local art collectors like the Bandekars and Salgaoncars and the patronage they extend.

Photographer Prashant Panjiar, who directed “Sensorium” and is in the process of setting up his house in Goa, sees a change in the people moving to the state. “It’s not that Goa has never attracted artistes and musicians. But the difference is that earlier these people would come here looking for seclusion and shut themselves up in pursuit of their art. Now, the younger crop is coming here not just to settle down, but actively engage with the land, its people and change the way things work. That’s propelling the transformation,” he says. Sheroy says 70 per cent of his students are looking to stay back in Goa. “Where else would they get such a setting for their art?” he says.

Because of its popularity among international tourists, Goa has a captive audience for many cultural activities. Rudolf Ludwig and his Goan wife Yulanda Kammermein, who run the Art Chamber in the state, regularly get musicians from all over the world to perform.

Both bemused and pleased at the turn of events is architect Gerard D’Cunha, who restored the Reis Magos fort, and has been waiting for Goa to come into its own for many years now. “Goa has natural beauty, good connectivity, amicable people, and a much easier pace of life. Now we also have IFFI, theatre, music, photography. I think it was inevitable that Goa should have become a leading art centre. It’s just taken too much time,” he says.

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