Early last year, during the Pune Biennale 2015, I was invited to speak to an audience made up of general public, artists and students of art. As someone who lives and practices in India and the UK, it was a good opportunity for me to talk and ask some difficult questions about the role of art in India. Does art within the Indian context have any social relevance at all? Does art and do artists within India have the tendency to play it safe and deal with abstract theories and issues rather than deal with the contentious social, religious and political problems facing Indian society today? Have they adopted more aesthetic objectives as their goal and prefer to forget its activist responsibility? Are they determined to debate on a conceptual intellectual theoretical levels and have given up on the final cycle of purpose of art i.e to be subsumed and consumed by the general public/society? Is it adopting a defensive strategy to exist outside of the society so that it might continue to practice? The very existence of art seems to depend on its non-existent status within society. How does this degeneration of art impact society over time? These questions and the fact that my practice is influenced by and runs parallel in both countries is the basic premise for the birth of ‘Conversations : Goa Art Residency’.
Concept of ‘Conversations’ also came to head, when I noticed that most artist practice was dominated by isolation which in turn leads to insulation. This insulation is transferred to the exhibition space, evident from their concern to just their work in the space and not really seeing the significance of other works located in close vicinity. Making of art can be in many ways stressful and requires a certain selfishness in space and time in order to understand and to clarify the inner thoughts and ideas which in turn need to be transferred through the right medium into an art object that successfully is representative of the idea or emotion. This can be a rather difficult and arduous journey. Once the art object does come into existence, the problematic change that needs to occur within the artist is that of a successful separation and transformation of the artist/creator into a viewer thereby completing the cyclical process of art.
Conversations in Goa though seemingly simple in its ambitions had complex undercurrents set well within. Artists from the West and India from diverse backgrounds, cultures and countries were expected to temporarily create a platform that would involve formal artist talks, which in turn initiated conversations and exchange of knowledge and experiences. Exchange that would involve knowing of each others backgrounds, social and cultural limitations, failures and successes, personal triggers and the general understanding of contemporary art within the Western and the Indian context. For most of the Indian artists, this would be their first introduction to so many western artists and their practices in one forum and an insight into the myriad issues that the artists deal with in their art practices.
Come 9th of February 2016, artists started making their way to Manora Raia, South Goa in taxis, tuk tuks and bike taxis, traveling by air, train and bus. Time to head for the beach for some and for others to relax around the pool in the quiet sunny afternoon to the sounds of birds and monkeys. Introductions, cold beer and a hot curry to finish the day and settle into the 400 year old house with white walls, high ceiling and rotating fans to keep cool.
In sunny Goa with beaches half hour away, some suggestions as to why have the talks when there could be organic conversations had on the beach? I could understand the need to getaway and be near the waves. But as the curator, it was crucial for me to structure within the schedule for the days to come to include the artist talks every day for an hour. Understandably, this was met with some reluctance but soon enough everyone was ready for the talks to happen. How does one address personal starting points within ones art practice in public especially to strangers? It can be an intimidating experience. It is also difficult when the heart was racing towards the beaches and the head had to stay and make sense!
Talks began, referring to myriad of starting points and milestones such as struggles between roles of artist and curator, being factual as a journalist to poetic improvisations, being a woman and an artist in India, personal v/s public, references to the invisibility of the 3rd gender in India, animation, LGBT, personal illnesses, fashion photography, art education in India and the West, deep fissures between both the cultures, architectural crossovers and colonial integration into the indigenous, problematic processes, art as a gesture, commercial v/s fine art and bringing the personal into the art object. Despite the formality of the talks, it was heartening to hear many of the issues triggering off other conversations around the kitchen table or the pool. Inevitably most of us were intrigued and curious about unfamiliar cultural and personal issues and soon the unfamiliar started to seamlessly integrate the differences and unify the group into one that of ‘being artists’. Multiple exchanges and collaborations started to happen organically. The initial formal space gradually dissolved into informal talks over a roll-up with a cup of tea/beer in the swimming pool and on the beach. Being artists that we all were, soon enough the talks, the house, the new fraternity, the friendly neighbourhood and the rural landscape of Raia started seeping itself into the creative process and the house was abuzz with creative energy.
The final day, time to leave Raia to move beddings and all to The Space for a one day show. It was a show rich and diverse in medium and site specific works in progress. An exciting amalgamation of primary creative responses to the site, people, artists and to the sun, sea and sand! Works involving found objects, performances, sculptures, interventions, shadow projections, fashion photography, text, improvised sketches, meditative drawings, interactive site and sound specific installation and gestural prints all seem to cohesively speak eloquently about all our unique wonderful experience of being together in house no 298 in the village of Raia Manora, opposite Manora Autoworks in South Goa.
As an artist and curator, who conceptualised this residency and worked for months to put this together, it was a successful project indeed. Successful, because the seeds planted at the beginning of the residency have grown new shoots in the form of strong connections, future collaborations and hopefully shifts in everyone’s art practice.