Sensorium by Sunaparanta Goa Centre for the Arts is one of India’s most acclaimed art endeavours and what sets it apart are the original art works created especially for the event. The 2015 edition of this annual festival of the arts is titled ‘Love’ and will open on December 14. Seven of India’s top notch galleries will showcase the cream of their crop here including Nature Morte, Photoink, Vadehra Art Gallery, Lakeeren Gallery, Experimenter and Jhaveri Contemporary. In conversation are the festival’s executive producer, Isheta Salgaocar and the honorary director, Sensorium, Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi.
Siddharth Shanghvi (SS): This year’s Sensorium is coruscating; who are you anticipating to see or hear and why?
Isheta Salgaocar (IS): For the first time in Goa, Sensorium will bring together seven of India’s leading galleries which in turn brings together some national and international legends like A Ramachandran, Rana Begum, Roger Ballen and Arpita Singh. I’m looking forward to the programming through the course of Sensorium: Bharti Kher, Jeet Thayil (curating spoken word), Nikhil Chopra (performing at and curating for Sensorium) and Atul and Anju Dodiya (both showing at Sensorium). And of course, Filter Theater with the Royal Shakespeare Company presenting Twelfth Night – which happens on December 14 at 8 p.m.
IS: How do you think Sensorium’s theme of love affects an artist’s process and approach to their chosen medium?
SS: The idea of love is broadsided, open-ended: it could be the impact of a failed love affair that inspires new work, the love for light or a certain geography that influences their oeuvre. At Sensorium we tried to rescue love from the cliché of sentimentality – here was the most powerful human emotion working to collate the vision of 40 seminal artists. It is not simply a word used too often to sign off a text message.
SS: From the first edition of Sensorium to this one – what were the challenges encountered and resolved?
IS: The first edition will always be special as it was like a first born: you change the way the parent (organisation) functions forever. I think with Sensorium last year we were still testing the waters, we had a fantastic line up, but we weren’t sure what to expect from the audience. Goa surprised us in the best way possible. Putting together a team that has a unified vision of making the festival a success is the hardest part, and we have been fortunate to find those individuals.
IS: Siddharth, you are showing South African legend Roger Ballen at Sensorium. He was also a guest at Sunaparanta. What in his work draws you to him?
SS: In Ballen’s work remarkable people tell a story of what happens when life fails to throw you a float. It is also, importantly, about how people get by without this float. This interests me most. It speaks most directly with my inner life. Subjects at the sidelines have a better view of the centre. I’ve lived on the peripheries of things; it’s given me a great vantage. The centre in any society is a constellation of convenient constructs that support central ideas like the creation of gender as a role or the occupation of an individual as a spouse. Over time you see that it is rubbish, and that one would rather be at home than falling into line. Ballen’s work establishes this in sharp relief.
IS: What is the importance of art festivals being in smaller cities like Goa, and even Kochi? Do you think the epicentres of art are moving away from cities?
SS: I was speaking with one of our guest curators, Nikhil Chopra, who pointed out the same to me – it is not about the centres changing as much as being able to invent counterpoints to the mainstream. Right now Goa is a lovely little lab of ideas, of people who had enjoyed success in different parts of the world but who are now renegotiating their pacts with solitude and authentic practice. This is exciting.
SS: You produced for TV star Charlie Rose; you met legends like Jeff Koons and Kevin Spacey. From a heady life in New York to your present role as Adviser, Programs for Sunaparanta – what did you learn in New York you can bring to Goa?
IS: When putting together any sort of programming, whether it’s TV or events, the importance of maintaining the highest standard on all fronts was my biggest learning. New York has a range of public events that people have access to, Goa until recently didn’t have this despite the fact that a lot of artists visited the state on a regular basis. Sunaparanta is vital in changing this and that’s the role I’m most keen on.
IS: Do you think there is a value to festivals across India (which are just increasing every day!) working together rather than competing with each other?
SS: My association with Sunaparanta is honorary – there’s no financial gain for me, so my work enjoys a degree of independence and transparency. Likewise, patrons of the centre, dear friends, Raj and Dipti Salgaocar invest personal funds to create community initiatives in the arts, and free festivals such as Sensorium. Our programming, because we are not driven by market forces, or controlled by governmental processes, is fuelled by passion. Consequently, we were initially surprised to hear of the criticism received for the first edition of Sensorium; now, we see it is the tribute jealousy pays to merit. All festivals should work to support each other.
IS: You’ve recently begun to don a curatorial hat at Sunaparanta. Tell me about it.
SS: I served as curatorial adviser to Sunaparanta for British master Julian Opie’s solo show ‘Winter’. My next show features original photographs by writer William Dalrymple, his art world debut. Curation is an arrangement of objects and ideas that enjoy either thematic resonance or play out in opposition to each other. It comes to me from my practice with writing books, when you bring the distillation of imaginative process to page.
(The play and all shows are free, and open to public.)