For the past five years, Sunaparanta Goa Centre for the Arts in Panjim has been holding a cultural festival every December. It was an intimate affair — art exhibitions and group discussions engaged the local creative community at the centre’s sprawling campus. However, this year, photographer Prashant Panjiar and author Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi were roped in to curate a festival that is larger in scale — the brief described it as “something small but serious”. After months of preparation, Sensorium 2014, a festival that celebrates the confluence of the arts, is ready to be unveiled.
“The idea was to find an intersection between literature, fine art, photography, architecture, cinema and history,” says Panjiar, the creative director of the festival . “For its first year, photography has been chosen as the point of confluence. Instead of organising a regular photo festival, we decided to enlarge the canvas of photography and focus on the documentation of different forms of art through the lens,” he says. The festival kicks off on December 5 and will go on till January 25 in Panjim. An annual event, it will shift focus to design, architecture, cinema and music in the coming years.
Once the theme was finalised, Panjiar began to look at different perspectives of looking at art. “Someone’s memory, their journal, their family’s history, all became art projects,” he says. Take Delhi-based graphic designer, Gopika Chowfla’s personal project, Flesh. The artist took photographs of her body being wrecked by cancer for a little over a year. These pictures of the physical changes she was undergoing were a way for her to confront her fears. Hers is one of the few traditional photography shows at the festival.
Italian artiste, Fausto Giaccone’s photo essay marries literature with photography. He went seeking the fantastical world that author Gabriel Garcia Marquez conjured in his books, by taking shots of the writer’s homeland, Colombia. Farrokh Chothia combines photography with music though a project, where he snapped jazz musicians at performances between 1989 and 2005 across the globe. “We have tried to pin the contexts where photography intersects with other art forms. For instance, the A4 pages of the screenplay of Sooni Taraporevala’s Salaam Bombay will be placed next to film stills. It is cinema, broken down to photography,” says Panjiar.
By doing so, when photos are placed in context, the work is enriched, says Anusha Yadav, founder of the Indian Memory Project, an online archive of India’s history. Yadav’s archive invites Indians from around the world to share their family photos with a story of the family’s history. She has collected hundreds of works from India’s first rock band with women members to the first Indians to study abroad. At the festival, Yadav will showcase 50 such stories with pictures.
Apart from exhibitions, the festival has organised allied activities around it. Writer William Dalrymple will give a lecture on his relative, Julia Margaret Cameron, an influential photographer of the 17th century and Ritesh Batra, director of The Lunchbox, will present a digital show of dabbawallah images from his film.
“With the festival, we wish to go beyond the image itself. Today, there are millions of photographs being taken and shared every second. So the idea is to encourage people to sift through the white noise and look for work that is seminal,” says Panjiar.