Panaji, Dec 20 (IANS) What does the river Mandovi mean to the people it nurtures? This question was the bedrock of the Nhoi project, a massive art documentation of the Goan waters, that is exhibited alongside its banks at the Serendipity Arts Festival here.
It is part of the “Panjim 175”, a commemoration of the rich heritage of the Goan capital on its 175th anniversary, a-century-and-quarter ahead of when the riverside city “ascended to ‘urbs prima’ in the Estado da India” (the Portugese State of India), a note on the multi-project exhibition said.
While the larger exhibition is curated by special project curators Vivek Menezes and Swati Salgaocar, the Nhoi project is an initiative of Goa-based architect Rhea D’Souza and Scottish artist Liz Kemp.
Tucked away from the hustle of Serendipity’s other venues, and in the breezy lap of the river, it documents through stories and drawings, the Nhoi (or Goa River Draw Project) showcases a panoramic, community drawing by Goa’s residents from ages eight to 80.
It is mounted on a meandering bamboo frame right opposite the clear blue water, almost as if the paper drawing is a mirror reflecting Mandovi, spilling over with legends, myths, beliefs, livelihoods, natural ecosystems, built structures, memories, realities and future visions that punctuate Mandovi’s relationship with those around.
What the “Goa River Draw” also mirrors is the collective memories and imagination of the local residents, something that is often missed out in documentation projects. The objective, the note said, was a significant and sustainable difference to collective memory while working with diverse communities.
An accompanying video of the community-focussed project, which had saree-clad women to children in school uniforms and even older residents come together for the drawing, narrates the process of the participants settling in, evoking memories around the river, marking their signatures on paper by tracing their own hands and feet and visually answering the questions: What is your memory, knowledge and vision of the river?
Responses ranged from drawing aquatic creatures to temples and churches, clear beaches and boats to everything Goa stands for. The geographic extent of the drawing stretched some 40 kilometers.
As residents recalled memories of their association with the Mandovi, with earthy river songs sung in local dialects to tales of near-drowning in the natural juggernaut, some voices also mapped the change it is going through.
“We have spent our entire childhood by the Mandovi river. We would spend our entire May vacation swimming, but now the Mandovi’s water is not suitable for swimming,” a resident lamented in the video.
Also on view are smaller drawings that resulted from 13 in-situ workshops in Goan locations across a period of nine months. The documentation project, spearheaded by the Bookworm Trust, will display more panels in 2019.
“Panjim 175” also displays works by Goan artists who draw inspiration from themes like what ‘freedom’ means to the Goan woman, chequered clothes of the agrarian folk, old and new maps of the capital the state, and local goddesses visualised in beautiful paint.
Another exhibition mounted along with “Panjim 175” — “Digital Heritage Play Lab” also provides a fresh glimpse into the Goan landscape by featuring emergent media practices like augmented reality, interactive games played on the phone and virtual reality. It houses works by three research and design collectives — Quicksand, Tandem and Greenhouse.
A highlight of the ‘Heritage Playthings’ gallery is an interactive storytelling app that has a character go around the capital, south and north Goa and meet local residents, including a poi(Goan bread)-seller and an old woman who loves to cook.
Both the exhibitions will close when the eight-day Festival concludes on December 22.
(Siddhi Jain is in Panaji at the invitation of the Serendipity Festival’s organisers. She can be contacted at siddhi,[email protected])