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Goa, a giver of many gifts

As residencies and performance spaces mushroom across old villas and islands, the state emerges as a hub for contemporary artists

Sunny Singh at The Cube Gallery and residency, with Adil Writer’s exhibition of ceramic works. Photo: M Ramesh/Mint
Sunny Singh at The Cube Gallery and residency, with Adil Writer’s exhibition of ceramic works. Photo: M Ramesh/Mint

A dressing gown, a hot water bottle and some whisky, if you can procure it, are really all you need. They are the absolute essentials of a writer," author Vikram Seth once said. But what if you could also have the sun, sea and an arrangement in which you could concentrate wholly on the enterprise of art-making? Goa, which has begun to offer these, is now a coveted destination for artists and writers.

Sunaparanta, a not-for-profit arts centre based in Panaji and funded by industrialist Dattaraj Salgaocar, is a case in point. Since its establishment in 2010, it has successfully activated the local art scene through regular art programming and Sensorium, an annual arts festival, and plans are now afoot to develop a residency programme that will encourage artists to feed off Goa’s syncretic relationship with its colonial Portuguese past. “Setting up an artist residency programme has been part of the Sunaparanta vision since inception. And I believe the time is ripe," says Salgaocar. “At present we are in the process of looking for a suitable old Goan house that we might restore for this purpose."

The time is appropriate given that the roster of people from different creative disciplines who have chosen to make their homes in Goa has grown substantially in the last few years; from graphic artist and designer Orijit Sen and performance artist Nikhil Chopra, to film-makers Q (Qaushiq Mukherjee) and Spandan Banerjee, musician Boom (Shyamant Behal), photographers Prashant Panjiar and Rohit Chawla, and artists Tejal Shah and Minam Apang. This migration has been conducive to the emergence of a “scene"—one where, unlike art hubs such as Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru, there is a convergence across disciplines. This is also resulting in a quiet shift in the locus of the contemporary Indian art world.

Romain Loustau and Madhavi Gore staging a performance piece, ‘The War Started During Summer Holidays/Wild Horse’, at the HH Art Spaces open studio on 17 February. Photo: Dheer Kaku

Within the fringe universe of performance art, Romain Loustau from Paris and artist couple Nikhil Chopra and Madhavi Gore have been instrumental in creating a subculture. They set up the Heritage Hotel (HH) Art Spaces in October 2014. Last year, they moved to a 300-year-old home in Arpora with five rooms, an expansive garden and an outhouse. Gore points out that an increasing range of collaborations with institutions is proof of their potential for sustainability. For instance, the inaugural Serendipity Arts Festival, a multidisciplinary event, held in Goa from 16-23 December, offered them funding to invite seven international and local artists. HH Art Spaces has also partnered with Sunaparanta, the Japan Foundation, and Khoj in New Delhi.

“The edge gets taken off when you come here," says Chopra, 43, when I reach the HH Art Spaces, whose interiors are always in flux, with furniture being moved around as the resident artists (typically three or four) begin to inhabit it.

What’s more, as artists begin to create work in the city, they also catalyse collaborations, whether with other artists or technicians. Nandita Kumar, 35, who presented her work at the open studio at HH Art Spaces, held on 17 February, moved to Guirim in Goa in late 2015. “In Bandra (Mumbai), I was paying a large chunk as rent, and if I were to go for storage, it was going to cost me as much as another apartment. Here I pay half the rent," she says. Her struggle with the absence of a work culture like Mumbai’s—in her case, this translated to not finding fabricators available at odd hours—led her to host them for short durations from Mumbai. “My work requires a team. That’s one of the reasons I thought I’d cut out the rent and (divert the money to) pay people better," says Kumar. She believes that her practice can serve as an incubator for local technicians who can learn from the visiting professionals. “I want to incorporate them into this circle of growth," she says.

Her recent work, The Unwanted Ecology, which will soon travel for an exhibition to Helsinki, is the culmination of her act of picking up weeds in the paddy fields surrounding her residence. “I’ve selected 20 plants and made a book on their medicinal properties and recipes," says Kumar. She sent dried weeds to a US-based sound designer who, through a tonal generator, tracked the frequency of each weed to create a soundtrack that merged with recordings of rain in Goa.

Twenty kilometres away, en route to Mandrem beach, Vaayu, founded by American Jill Ferguson, 26, and Rahul Malaney, 27, is a destination where only artists suited to Goa’s pace of life are invited. “It’s important for people coming here to understand that things don’t always work on time perfectly, like in New York, so you have to be ready to go with the flow and adapt your vision to the reality on the ground," says Ferguson. Vaayu holds one-three open studios a month and houses six artists at a time. The duration of the residencies can stretch from one-six months.

Sonny (Satinder) Singh’s The Cube Gallery has been around longer. The 52-year-old architect moved from Los Angeles in 2006 and set up the Moira-based arts platform with his partner, fashion designer Carolina Paez. Artists are invited to inhabit The Loft, a suite of rooms above the gallery-cum-store designed by Singh to create work that privileges an organic process-based approach. Last month, Adil Writer, an Auroville-based ceramic artist, exhibited works inspired by the unique gateposts of Goan homes.

This month, the Goa-based Por Mar Collective—a core group of six young emerging Goan artists living and practising in Goa—will collaborate with the Delhi-based Khoj International Artists’ Association for its annual site-specific residency. This year, the venue for the workshop is Old Pereira House, a century-old property currently owned by artist Orijit Sen and his partner, Gurpreet Sidhu, on the island of Corjeum. The two-week residency, which starts on 25 March, will bring together 24 artists from 13 countries and conclude with an open house. “We think there’s enough happening there (in Goa), so that even after the residency ends, there’s a growing community of artists, audiences and space who would probably value the momentum the residency creates and maybe take it forward," says Sitara Chowfla, senior programme manager at Khoj.

Rosalyn D’Mello was a writer in residence at the HH Art Spaces in February.

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