Eye on Goa Art

Solomon Souza is putting his tag on Goa with vibrant murals of local heroes

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FN Souza’s grandson is in India and Solomon Souza, an Israel-based artist, is transforming Goa’s cityscape, one wall at a time

Bright murals are popping up across villages in North Goa, of local icons like poet Eunice de Souza and jazz musician Chic Chocolate. If you step out in the late afternoons, you may spot the man behind the vibrant portraits, perched on a ladder, his face covered with a respirator mask, spray can in hand, shifting his focus from the wall only to quickly look at a reference photograph.

Solomon Souza is putting his tag on Goa with vibrant murals of local heroes

London-born Jerusalem-based artist Solomon Souza is in town at the invitation of the Serendipity Arts Foundation. His project, Icon, under curator Vivek Menezes’ Mundo Goa project, is part of the 2019 Serendipity Arts Festival (December 15 to 22). But there’s also a deeper connection. Goa is ‘home’ — Solomon’s grandfather, Francis Newton Souza, the seminal modernist painter and founder of the Progressive Artists Movement of the 1940s, hailed from here. “It is just incredible,” says the 26-year-old, of his first visit to the state. “Half of my ancestral tree is rooted here. And although it is completely different from anything I’d imagined, it feels very familiar.”

Spontaneous in Saligao

A week into his two-week stay, Solomon has finished five murals. “I can usually do five in a day,” he says, but he has been busy “exploring winding roads, visiting my grandfather’s birth home, and reuniting with his old friends”. You can catch it all on his Insta stories (@solomonsouza). Meanwhile, Menezes — who not only helped Solomon finalise the 24 personalities, but also scouted the villages for walls (large ones in good repair, with high visibility) — has been introducing him to local artists. Like Fabian Gonsalves, who is part of Serendipity’s Azulejo 2019 (another project under Mundo Goa, which brings together new talents). “Solomon’s work is wild and free, and very spontaneous. He has blended his style with the Goan soil,” says Gonsalves. “I’ve seen his previous works; they speak of an entirely different world. But the work he’s done here will make anyone think it was done by a local.”

Solomon Souza is putting his tag on Goa with vibrant murals of local heroes

Strong of faith
  • A follower of Judaism, Solomon says he owes his faith to his mother. “My grandmother, Liselotte de Kristian [FN Souza’s second wife], was of Jewish descent. She escaped the Holocaust and fled from Prague, in Czechoslovakia, to London. She hid her Jewish identity for many years,” he says. “She was very liberal and secular, but my mother felt that there was something missing in her life — a connection. When she found Judaism, it filled that gap. And it came down to me.”
  • Solomon interacts regularly with the Jewish community in Israel. One of the murals he did at the Mahane Yehuda market was of an Indian Jew, whose name he doesn’t remember but whose heroic deed made him a local icon. “He was a bus conductor. Three or four years ago, two young terrorists on the bus started stabbing people, and he somehow managed to stop one of them,” he recalls.

Among the remaining murals, Solomon is most excited to paint his grandfather, one each in Saligao and the capital city, Panaji. In fact, he’d wanted to start his project with FN Souza’s portrait — “he is the reason I am here” — but he is still searching for that perfect wall!

Journey so far

Solomon grew up in an artistic environment in London. His mother Karen, also a painter, never discouraged him from scribbling on their house walls. “She used to tape paper up to my height, so I could draw. She opened the path for me [in art],” he says. She also taught him the importance of his grandfather’s revolutionary vision, and, though he didn’t understand much as a child, as he grew older, he says Souza’s work helped him express his art.

While he does studio art, too, he got into spray painting in his early teens, when, as a “young rebel”, he graffitied an entire school wall to protest a detention. “The spray can is like an infinity brush. I can make a painting without taking my finger off it; I follow its pressure and let it take me where it wants to go,” explains Solomon, who gained fame after he transformed Jerusalem’s main marketplace, Mahane Yehuda, into an outdoor art gallery, painting over 230 shutters with the visages of contemporary and historical personalities. Today he paints across the world, from the US to Australia, and works with multiple crews, including Jerusalem’s Aleph Bet.

Solomon Souza is putting his tag on Goa with vibrant murals of local heroes

But don’t let the bespectacled, innocent face fool you; he gets into trouble, too. He’s been arrested several times for painting in the streets. “Even if the owner gives permission, you still need to check with the city authorities,” he laughs. But he considers Israel a blank canvas. As he told the US news site, Jewish Journal, earlier, “I feel free here, like I’m able to soar. In England, I felt small in a big place, but here I feel big in a small place. This is still a baby state, learning how to walk, but we’re going to teach it how to run.”

Treasuring impermanence

For Solomon, street art is a medium “to bring colour to people’s lives”. He is not trying to make a point. “If it changes someone’s perception about graffiti, then that’s a good thing,” he says. Does the impermanence get to him? “Nothing is permanent. I came to terms with that a long time ago. So, enjoy till it lasts and take lots of pictures” he states, adding, “There are many murals I’ve seen that have been painted over. But every time I pass that wall, I remember the painting. It is there for me, underneath somewhere.”

In Goa, he hopes to connect with many street artists, especially the ones associated with Delhi-based St+art, who are part of the Serendipity festival. And next up, he will head West, to take up commissions in London and Los Angeles.

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 1:37:17 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/solomon-souza-is-putting-his-tag-on-goa-with-vibrant-murals-of-local-heroes/article30049558.ece

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