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An artist’s take on Goa’s khazan lands at the Serendipity Arts Festival

Goa-based artist Pakhi Sen has created an installation that spotlights the state’s unique khazan system, which is located at the mouth of rivulets and managed by villagers

Detail from Pakhi Sen's 'Naikhazan' installation
Detail from Pakhi Sen's 'Naikhazan' installation

A unique arts space has been created, as part of the ongoing Serendipity Arts Festival, in the children’s park on the banks of the Mandovi river in Panjim, Goa. Within this Art Park, you will come across an installation, ‘Naikhazan’, which tells a story of Goa’s past, present, and even future. It showcases the history of the state’s khazan lands through a fibreglass and wood cylinder, spanning 7x6 feet, which holds interactive chambers, designed by Goa-based artist Pakhi Sen.

For the uninitiated, khazan lands are wooden structures, built on flood plains with the building of ‘bunds’ (dykes) and ‘manos’ (sluice gates). They are located at the mouth of the rivulets and control the tidal currents. The entire khazan system across Goa is built along its rivers, and is managed by ‘communidades’, or village commons.

This installation is part of the public art initiative Island That Never Gets Flooded, which aims to showcase developing practices that propose ecological alternatives through materials and processes, exploring local knowledge systems, building community engagement, highlighting environmental movements, and more.

Also read: Serendipity Arts Festival 2023: New language of creating art

Sen’s installation presents an illustrated map of the khazan system. The work also incorporates sluice gates at various heights, serving as windows into interior chambers, operated by levers, revealing hidden depths. The installation is significant as these systems are considered integral to Goa’s heritage. This ancient system controls the vagaries of nature and the salinity in the water. It would not be an exaggeration to say that khazan is the lifeline of the state.

“So much of Goa’s interiors would have been submerged if it was not for the khazan system,” says Sen. The artist, who spent much of her childhood in Aldona village in north Goa, remembers khazan being part and parcel of her growing up years. “I remember playing around the structure, and now I embark on long walks around it. I am trying to depict my everyday walk in this installation,” she adds.

For long, a rich ecosystem has thrived around the khazan, with the system being home to a large variety of wetland birds, crocodiles, snakes and mangroves. It also plays a key role in the lives of villagers, ranging from paddy farmers to fishermen, who help maintain the system. Sen has added a soundscape to her work, wherein she has recorded conversations with villagers, sounds from the site, and also a mando, which is a traditional Goan song and dance style. “This mando gives a feeling of someone singing in the field,” she adds.

Also read: Weaving folklore of the North-East

This is a collective project, created in collaboration with Guido Wolfram, who engineered the whole installation, sculptor Srishti Roshan, sound designer Aditya Kapoor, and Philipine Morais, who did the voice overs. Sen spent nearly a year on this project to understand the myths and politics around the khazan system. “I also understood about the election of Communidade and the politics behind it. But, I could not incorporate all these elements as I didn’t want to complicate the story,” adds Sen. She is paying respect to this awe-inspiring place—depicting its beauty and showing it for what it is.

“The area where we are living is rapidly changing. There is a constant dichotomy between people who are living here and people coming from outside. But, one thing is for sure that everybody loves the landscape, right from the fishermen to the tourists,” she says.

‘Naikhazan’ is on display at the Art Park, Panjim till 23 December

Arti Das is a Goa-based independent journalist

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