BY VIVEK MENEZES
In his milestone 2007 essay on the art and artists of Goa, the critic and curator (and award-winning poet) Ranjit Hoskote wrote, “Goan art has long been an invisible river, one that has fed into the wider flow of Indian art but has not always been recognized as so doing…the Goan art scene finds its definition around a number of inspired individuals who defy the apathy of India and the defeatism of their peers; around groups of artists acting collegially towards a higher common purpose; and around the cluster of compelling psychic and historical contents that spur them on to artistic exploration.”
That compelling curatorial text was written for the hugely significant large-scale group exhibition, Aparanta- The Confluence of Contemporary Art in Goa, which reintroduced the Indian art world to the intensely fertile cultural landscape that had previously produced a long string of heralded exemplars: Trindade, da Cruz, Angelo da Fonseca, Vasudeo Gaitonde and Francis Newton Souza.
There are two direct connections between that breakthrough and the International Film Festival of India in Goa. One of Aparanta’s crucial participants was the brilliant young artist Pradeep Naik, who contributes stunning original cover paintings to The Peacock’s 2018 edition.
The other is IFFI’s heritage precinct headquarters in the wonderfully restored old Goa Medical College. At that time in 2007, the building had been cavalierly handed over by the state government to some Delhi-based developer to convert into a shopping mall. But after the citizens of Panjim saw their beloved landmark brim full of life, spilling over with art and activity, they ensured it would remain in the public domain forever.
There’s a curious paradox about the art and artists of Goa. Few places anywhere in the world continually churn out such amazing talent non-stop, but each generation faces similar problems of isolation, neglect, and an appreciable amount of less-than-subtle bigotry. Hoskote nailed it in 2007, “Geographical contiguity does not mean that Goa and mainland India share the same universe of meaning: Goa’s special historic evolution, with its Lusitanian route to the Enlightenment and print modernity, its Iberian emphasis on a vibrant public sphere, its pride in its ancient internationalism avant la lettre, sets it at a tangent to the self-image of an India that has been formed with the experience of British colonialism as its basis. The relationship between Goa’s artists and mainland India has, not surprisingly, been ambiguous and erratic, even unstable.”
Part of the difference is globalized sophistication. In Goa, the arts flow into each other seamlessly, with literature and poetry influencing painting and music, and vice versa. One contemporary example is the annual cross-disciplinary Goa Arts + Literature Festival (the 2018 edition begins on December 6). But also just look at the festival daily newspaper in your hand, enlivened throughout by the extraordinary portrait photographs of Assavri Kulkarni, inscrutable and intriguing illustrations and comics by Nishant Saldanha, and one-of-a-kind cover paintings by Pradeep Naik, who follows in the outstanding footsteps of Siddharth Gosavi, Amruta Patil and Kedar DK.
Here are some important facts to remember. The genius modernist Francis Newton Souza died in 2002, without ever selling a painting in his 50-year career for as much as 10,000 dollars. Twelve months had not passed before that top price surmounted $100,000, and very soon crested beyond one million dollars. His countryman, and lifelong friend, and fellow member of the Progressive Artists Group of Bombay, Vasudeo Gaitonde himself passed away in 2001 in something like penury, looked after by a generous friend.
His paintings too posthumously soared to stratospheric market values – the two natives of North Goa villages have traded off the world record price for an Indian artwork constantly over the years, as auctions in New York and London have pushed the numbers ever higher.
Now zoom back in to India’s smallest state. What is history going to tell us about the outside world’s capability to understand, appreciate and celebrate Generation Now’s contributions to the spectacular trajectory of Goan art, even as it unfurls in front of their eyes?