CHRISTINE MACHADO | NT BUZZ
Chances are you may have lived in Panaji your whole life and still not be aware of where the Old PWD Complex is exactly. Indeed, it’s quite possible that you have traversed the Old Patto Bridge countless times or strolled over the Ponte de Linhares Bridge and still not noticed this place just below.
However, in the last two years, this location comes alive in the month of December; courtesy, the Serendipity Arts Festival that plays host to interesting art projects. This time around as part of the festival, the complex, which unfortunately is said to be slated for demolition, hosts the project Panjim 175, a celebration of 175 years of the beautiful city being the capital city, first of the Estado de India (the Portuguese colonial empire), and later of the liberated Goa.
“This was important not just for Goan and Indian history, but also in terms of maritime history as it was the first time that a major world trade capital with European contact was based in this part of the world,” says Vivek Menezes, who has curated the project along with business professional, Swati Salgaocar with help from curatorial assistant and venue manager Daphne D’Souza.
The coming of Panaji also marked the rise of the natives during the period of Portuguese rule, says Vivek, with Goans taking it upon themselves to build their own city.
And the city, he further states, was built for quality of life and sophisticated engagement with the world and a cosmopolitan outlook. “These are the virtues that the new regime is looking at as part of the Smart City plan, but Panaji was built with it already,” he says. The irony, he says, is that the quality of life in the city has plummeted as the city has been subjected to a number of indignities. “In the name of the future, the 21st century is brutalising the smart city of the 19th century,” he says.
Through this project they have also tried to showcase a model for an ideal art and culture centre for Panaji.
“In a short period of time, we have tried to create an art centre that Panaji should have which would include a place for performance, environment, lectures, apart from a nice café and shop,” says Menezes.
The Panjim 175 project was conceived and created by Goans featuring ten artists from Goa and the diaspora.
It is an engaging lesson on everything Goa, from some of the legends behind the coming into existence of the region, the history, the architecture, to the tribal way of life, the religious aspects, the music, the environmental beauty and present hazards etc.
Harshada Kerkar, for instance has done portraits in charcoal of different women from the Panaji market.
Her second work is a drawing of a fish which is displayed separately. The tale part of the fish is an interactive work.
“I call this work ‘Tales and Tails’…of River Mandovi,” says Kerkar. The fish is used as a symbol of the River Mandovi and its silent suffering, owing to lack of proper care by the people. “It is serious as well as fun. The surface is done with blackboard paint. So it can be cleaned everyday and people can do their own graffiti around the theme on it,” she says.
Sonia Rodrigues Sabharwal has focused on the legend of the seven sisters. It is believed that these sisters and their brother who were on a divine pilgrimage entered Goa to rest. While there are various stories attached as to why they stayed, they settled down in different villages to safeguard the residents and surrounding areas- Larai in Shirgao, Kelbai in Mulgao, Mahamaya in Mayem, Morjai in Morjim, Shitali. who walked into the Arabian Sea, Anjadipa who wandered around the earth, and Milagres who converted to Catholicism and is venerated in Mapusa.
“I have been working with gods and goddesses for quite some time now. In the last show I did in 2010, I looked at the history of Goa in the pre-Portuguese era with the Goan goddesses and gods. So the idea for these art works came from that exhibition. I visited temples to research for the tales around these goddesses,” she says.
Sabharwal has also used various flowers in her paintings which correspond to the likes of each goddess. Her other installation at the project is ‘Harvest’.
In the same room as the goddess artworks, is an installation ‘Roinn Reborn’ by Waylon D’Souza on the termite mound, said to be the primeval deity of Goa. “The termite mound symbolically represents Goddess Shantadurga as well as Goddess Santeri. The worship of ant-hills may have originated among aboriginal tribes of Konkan,” he says. His other installation located in the café titled ‘Chrysalis of Blue Economy’ looks at how waste can be recycled into making beautiful pieces of art. “I have used household waste packaging, cigarette and wafer packets collected off the roadside,” he says.
Chaitali Morajkar’s artworks ‘Swantantra’ looks at freedom from different dimensions -political, domestic and internal. One of the pieces consists of handwritten stories and memories of girls who were just 10 – 12 years old during Goa’s libration as each mused on what freedom meant to them. “Finding these women wasn’t an easy task. Some of them in these notes spoke about the fear of hearing the footsteps of the Portuguese soldiers and how the elders used to hide them away. Most of them spoke about their feeling of regret of not being able to get a proper education,” she says.
Pritha Sardessai’s ‘Kapodanchi Kanni’, tells the story of the kunbi saree, Sandesh Naik’s ‘Nova Goa’ pays tribute to the original spirit of the great world trade entry – Panaji.
Nishant Saldanha’s ‘Panjim 175’, a digital print on paper, focuses on the iconic mermaid statue. It is a vivid example of idiosyncratic classical western style set against dramatic colourful backdrop of indigenous wild flowers.
Other artists whose works feature include Kausalya Gadekar, Loretti Pinto, Neha Kudchadkar, Rajeshree Thakkar, Shilpa Mayenkar Naik and Sonatina Mendes. There is also a video by John Lino on the ferry ride, an audio visual show of the Narkasura, apart from an exhibition by Goa Bird Conservation Network and Nhoi- The River Draw by Bookworm Trust.
The art works are all interspersed with poetry pieces by poets like Manohar Shetty, Eunice De Souza and Philip Furtado which are hung on the walls all around and based on the themes of the art pieces.
As part of the celebration, visitors can also listen to various talks detailing the history of Panaji, its architecture, the many cultural facets et al. And in the late evening, one can sit in the open air area right besides the Ourem Creek with a splendid view of the Mandovi bridges, the historic Ponte de Linhares Bridge and the area leading into Fontainhas.