In the unassuming, riverside cluster of buildings that is the PWD Complex in Panjim is an intriguing proposition for art and culture in Goa. Drawing on the rich history and the cultural and natural heritage of the state, curators Vivek Menezes and Swati Salgaocar have put together the exhibition, titled “Panjim 175”. It commemorates an important milestone in the story of modern Goa — the construction of a colonial capital by and for the natives. The exhibition, which is one of the special projects at the Serendipity Arts Festival 2018, also gives a bird’s eye view of what the future, with the right interventions, could look like for Panjim.
“Vivek and I wanted to showcase Goa in a way that has not been done before. The starting point was Panjim, but we’re showing Goa through the eyes of contemporary Goan artists,” says Salgaocar. In Harshada Kerkar’s portraits, we see the distinctive style and carriage of the local Gawda women and their traditional modes of dressing, as well as the indigenous produce that they sell in Panjim’s bustling market. Local traditions are further explored in the works of Waylon D’Souza and Sonia Rodrigues Sabharwal, where we get a glimpse into the pre-Christian history of Goa. On the other hand, the Digital Heritage Play Lab set up by the Goa Heritage Project, with a grant from the Prince Claus Foundation and the British Council, creates immersive media and interactive storytelling. This is done through the works of three collectives — Quicksand, Tandem and Greenhouse — as they use augmented reality and games to explore Goan heritage.
These displays intersect with work being done on other aspects of Goan life — whether it is the documentation of bird life by non-profit, membership-based society Goa Bird Conservation Network or Pritha Sardessai’s celebration of the traditional Kunbi weave which, after being nearly lost in the 1980s, saw a revival thanks to the efforts of Goa’s textile enthusiasts.
Above everything else, however, the exhibition acts as a plea to the authorities to reconsider what could be done with PWD Complex and the unique space that it offers for a showcase of local art and culture. “This complex is slated for demolition and is going to turn into an office, as part of the plan to make Panjim a Smart City,” says Salgaocar, “So what we really wanted to show is the kind of cultural centre that we really wanted in Panjim. A place where people can be exposed to all aspects of Goa is missing in the state.” The hope, she says, is that the exhibition will help rally enough public support to keep the PWD complex as a space for art and culture. “We have this incredible space, which is, in a way, readymade for such activities. It is right by the river, and in no other location in Panjim can you get this close to the water. The scale of the building is very approachable. It’s not huge and you need just small, subtle interventions for it to work very well,” says Salgaocar. ‘Panjim 175’ is on view at PWD Complex as part of the Serendipity Arts Festival in Panjim, Goa, till December 22.