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Serendipity Arts Festival turns Goa into site for experimentation

At the fifth physical edition of the Serendipity Arts festival, being held in Goa, curators and artists are playing with forms and ideas

'Game of Dice', curated by Geeta Chandran. Photo: courtesy Serendipity Arts Festival 2022

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These days, Goa has turned into a site for experimentation, with artists and curators playing with forms and ideas. So you have Suno, a new media experiment by artists Kanchan Joneja, Sukriti Thukral and Mayank Joneja that explores the intersections between storytelling and digital soundscapes. It recreates an obscure site from Delhi at the Old GMC Complex in Goa through aural immersion. In Terra Nullius/Nobody’s Land: Excavations From Image 3.0, eight multimedia practitioners from France are inventing new spectral environments and networked ecologies in the post-digital and post-pandemic world. At another site—the Excise Building—artists such as Jafar Panahi, Kavich Neang and Tanushree Das are exploring rather abstract and liminal spaces between wakefulness and dream, fact and fiction, in the exhibition Who Is Asleep Who Is Awake, through film, photography and video installations.

At the fifth, ongoing physical edition of the Serendipity Arts Festival, art forms are not bound by silos; rather, they are fluid, melding into one another. One can see this in the 120-plus programmes across over 14 venues in Goa. This cross-pollination of ideas and inter-disciplinarity is being guided by 11 curators, such as Quasar Thakore-Padamsee, Bickram Ghosh, Ehsaan Noorani, Mayuri Upadhya, Pramod Kumar K.G., Sudarshan Shetty and Prahlad Sukhtankar.

For Thakore-Padamsee, this fluidity is exciting. “Music and dance has become such an integral part of the theatre canon. I have had great latitude to recommend stuff that could go into the music and dance categories as well. Take the Ta Dhom project, for instance, which is very much in keeping with my own lens. It has basti boys rapping their story to the world,” he says. The project brings together rap with konnakol, unique vocal percussion derived from the sounds of the mridangam.

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According to Sunil Kant Munjal, founder patron of the Serendipity Arts Foundation, which has been hosting the festival since 2016, this inter-disciplinarity is key. It is not just about showcasing multiple art forms but having diverse forms and skill sets working together within specific projects. “A lot of new work is commissioned for the festival. We collaborate with over a dozen curators, who do the creative and intellectual work. Apart from this, we also do year-long engagements in the form of research projects, residencies, and more. This leads to a new ideation and experimentation,” he adds.

‘Sari The Unstitched’ by Daksha Sheth Dance Company, Asima Ensemble, and the Sari School for the Serendipity Arts Festival 2022
‘Sari The Unstitched’ by Daksha Sheth Dance Company, Asima Ensemble, and the Sari School for the Serendipity Arts Festival 2022

When the festival was launched, it was the first to bring the culinary arts within the wider ambit of art and culture. In the past, this section has seen curators such as Manu Chandra and Rahul Akerkar look at food through a myriad lenses. This year, Prahlad Sukhtankar, who runs the popular Black Market in Panaji, has put together a food lab that explores the indigenous cuisines of Goa between Kunbi and Velip, with workshops to understand Koji as a way to approach food waste.

This year, a major focus at the festival is technology—and how it has changed the way we perceive art and even perform. “Technology is all around us, it is all pervasive. It’s only sensible to recognise that,” says Munjal. “During covid-19, we put together a digital festival called Serendipity Arts Virtual.” They came up with the idea when he came across theatre practitioners, dancers and musicians who were ready to give up their practice owing to financial struggles. “Many people had started putting up content on digital media. We thought of creating new content with 400-500 artists for the virtual festival. It was amazing that we got 42 million visitors from across the world. And in the current edition, you will find projects that are both physical and digital at the same time,” he says. 

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For instance, there is a special showcase on non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, at the group show Somewhere Ethereal, featuring six works by leading international artists. There is also a workshop on whether NFTs are a game changer for the arts and creative economy. Another interesting session is on the future of art with technology, led by Microsoft. The idea is to look at how technology can aid accessibility and sustainability within the culture ecosystem.

The fifth edition, which started on 15 December, is straddling global concerns about a post-digital world with hyperlocal indigenous art practices. Pramod Kumar K.G., for instance, is showcasing a unique photo exhibition, Forgotten Carpets Of The Jaipur Court: Craft And The Promise Of An Archive. It evokes stories of a royal court, feuding families and how India has almost lost an important craft archive. Anjana Somany, who is also curating this segment, is looking at the rich traditions of materiality through space-making in Srijan. “Space-making crafts have been an integral part of vernacular building practices in India. Look closely and each one has a story of its own—stories of shared histories and innovation. This exhibition space is an attempt to look at these practices with a new lens while keeping the tradition alive by giving them applications in modern contexts to reimagine the craft,” she mentions in her curatorial note.

Each year, the Serendipity Arts Festival organises special projects as a way of expressing its gratitude to the people of Goa for being such gracious hosts. “The festival is a success not just because of the audiences who come from outside but also due to the people within Goa. People come forward to organise small events in their homes, local artists become part of some of the projects, so on and so forth,” explains Munjal. He highlights a special endeavour, Goa Familia, which started in 2016 and is an ever-evolving project that explores links between the family histories and photographic archives of people from Goa. “People contribute photos of their family members who were once in Goa and have now moved to other places. It has become a historical archive of Goan families now,” he elaborates.

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To him, supporting the art and culture ecosystem through the festival and foundation is important. It saddens Munjal that art is understood as an exclusive domain for a few rather than being accessible to all. “Which is why we got involved as an organisation. Art speaks to the soul, it allows people to be more effective, and allows them to think in a more balanced way, especially during times of crisis,” says Munjal. “For any nation to be successful, it is very important to keep one’s rich cultural heritage alive.” The foundation has now started work on a special institution which will serve as a platform not just for artists but also architects and designers. “No one person can ever do everything to foster the arts. But this institution is an endeavour to take these efforts forward,” he says.

The Serendipity Arts Festival is being held across Goa till 23 December.

 

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