Art

In conversation with private worlds: GoaPhoto bringing photoworks from across the globe

Image: One of Aruna Canevascini’s self-reflective frames. Photo courtesy, GoaPhoto

Goa is no stranger to foreign influences and interactions. From being a former Portuguese colony to becoming a haven for the hippies in the 1970s, Goa has hardly ever been a closed community, in terms of both culture and space. Yet, over the years, it has been reduced to more of a sun and beach capital of the country, feeding tourists flocking here with a quick getaway, an escape from the drudgery of their lives back home. But off the well-trodden path, an old Goa remains intact and unseen, invisible to the incurious tourist’s eye.

GoaPhoto, in its second edition, to be held this week hopes to open up this rare Goa to its viewers by way of a more tactile experience. Old traditional homes in the little village of Saligao, about a 30-minute drive from Panaji, are to host 15-odd exhibitions that form the core of the festival. Compared to its inaugural 2015 edition that was set across public spaces in the capital town and at the Reis Magos Heritage Centre, this year’s festival is more personal and intimate, in keeping with the chosen theme of “the domestic”. It only follows then, that these bodies of work that derive from the domestic or the home space are placed within abodes rich in architectural and cultural history.

Cultural conversations

The festival’s producer-director/curator duo, Lola Mac Dougall and Nikhil Padgaonkar approached four other curators who were assigned each one of the five individual homes to work with. “I think the festival is impregnated with Goa because…it is a response to Goan ‘ways of living’. But it is also — as an international photography festival — unabashedly global and in this sense it is a response to our times: cultural cross-pollination these days travels faster and longer, thanks to technology. It would have been impossible to make this festival just ten years ago. And, had the location been different, I am convinced it would have resulted in a completely different proposition”, shares Mac Dougall on the co-relation between the festival and the space/s it is set in. Curator Akshay Mahajan, who resides in rural Goa agrees. He reflects, “In the last year or two, there have been a lot of new initiatives showing photography in Goa including the Serendipity Arts Festival. There is a lot of scope in terms of creating a space for photography here. My only hope is that such festivals coming to Goa, do so with the intention of more meaningful exchanges with Goans and Goa’s culture, rather than just for a beautiful venue and better air quality.”

While Mac Dougall’s selection of work is spread across two different homes, Mahajan, on his exploration into the disappearing family albums through the work of artists Kannagi Khanna, Sukanya Ghosh and Cecilia Verilli and Federico Carpani, brings it all under one roof at the Red and Ochre Corner House. Each of the homes spell quirky names that in a way reflect the eclectic selection of work contained in them. From documenting childhood in relation to the lived environment in which it blossoms, through the dreamy work of Claudia López Ortega where she photographs her daughter in and around a deserted beach resort or the candid drama of Roberto Tondopo’s niece and nephew, as his camera chases them about their home, to the carefully constructed self-portraits of Nino Cais and the self reflective frames of Aruna Canevascini, all bodies of work invite the viewer to step in and partake in the artist’s private worlds.

Thoughts and perspectives

Objects — collectibles and souvenirs, be it expensive China or cheap trinkets, are constantly in conversation within the frames and outside it in the homes, as well. The viewer is privy to the multiple dialogues between the objects and the space, as well as between the artists and the space.The home and family are basic tenets revisited with fresh perspectives that definitely look inwards more than outwards. Bego Antón’s Musical Canine Freestyle that captures un-choreographed moments between dogs and their owners, both participants in a dancing contest in the USA, or Elisa González Miralles’ Wannabe that looks at the bizarre and disturbing trend of young Japanese women emulating the latex life-sized Baby Dolls, both explore intimacy in unique ways. The former body of work shares space with Stéphane Winter’s heartwarming visual diary that spans across the past 23 years of his life with his adoptive parents. Mahajan’s belief that “One cannot in my (his) mind remove the family from an idea of home,” holds true in all manners of approach, be it the sensitive documentary style of Illana Bar’s images of her Down Syndrome-affected relatives, the myth as narrative in Diego Moreno’s portraits of panzudos (folk monsters) or the reconstruction from/of memory in Rasel Chowdhury’s Railway Longings that journeys into the past through images made in present-day Bangladesh.

Connecting differences

While none of the work is overtly connected to Goa or its history or culture, other than the connection that emerges from being placed within the five homes, it forces its viewers, Goans or foreigners to the land, both, to look at the work for what it is, in context to the space it has been installed in. In the same vein that an international film festival or art festival pledges non-parochialism, this festival too could be that — an effort to create a substantial body of work curated with a common theme in mind or in Mac Dougall’s words, “conceptualised honestly and executed both with passion and rigor”.

For curator Eder Chiodetto who hails from Brazil, “This look inside oneself, the house, is not something exclusive to Brazilian artists, possibly caused by a process of globalisation and [technology] that for now oppress [rather] than help contemporary man to know himself better.” He explains in an email chat how the festival works in tandem with this process, “I am increasingly thinking that humanity will only develop as it enhances the ability to see the other through… the perception that differences must lead us to reflection.” Through a parallel event to the exhibitions at the Saligao Institute, photographer Anshika Varma in a way extends Chiodetto’s idea of universality and inclusiveness. In her projection, titled Snail on the Slope that screens about ten bodies of work against multiple soundtracks, she hopes to questions how “…intangible ideas of nationhood, family, religion can convince the human race to work against each other” by exploring “methods of creating social structures among people to create a sense of belonging within the human race.”

A festival like this one opens up relevant debates, urging one to question prescribed ideas. Thoughts on how the intimate impacts its audience as opposed to the generic. Or the space that art is viewed in, juxtaposing unconventional spaces like the homes in GoaPhoto with conventional ones like galleries and the kind of dialogues that each of these open up. Lastly, the work in itself, whether the art displayed strikes a chord with the viewer or as importantly, if it alienates him/her and why. Mac Dougall sums it well, “We hope the visitor will perceive a larger narrative emanating from the festival, for us this is an aspiration that lies in the very reason of curating a photography festival.”

GoaPhoto takes place in Saligao, Goa from 23-26 November, more details at goaphoto.in

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2021 12:23:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/in-conversation-with-private-worlds/article20601252.ece

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