December 10, 2017


By Georgina Maddox

The Serendipity Arts Festival is all set to evoke the discourse of geopolitics and climate change

How does contemporary performance art deal with history? What happens when you place a body in a historical moment? What are the roles that pedagogy and the archive play in the retelling of this history? These are some of the questions that will be raised during the eight-day Serendipity Arts Festival (SAF 17’). The second edition of the festival, will be held along the banks of the river Mandovi in Panaji, Goa, from December 15-22, 2017. This edition will feature over 70 art projects, of which 40 are commissioned specifically for the festival. The multidisciplinary arts festival brings together visual, performing and culinary arts, curated by eminent artists and creative collaborators, with the aim of “making the important interesting”. It is a collaboration between HH Art Spaces, Asia Art Archive and the Serendipity Arts Trust.

Some of the curators for the visual arts section are Riyas Komu, whose segment is titled ‘Young Subcontinent’, Ranjit Hoskote, who will be curating ‘Anti Memoirs: Locus, Language, Landscape’. ‘Detritus: Matter Out of Place’ curated by Vidya Shivadas, ‘Art for Children Anatomy of the Dot’ by Nilanjana Nandy and ‘Now You See It’ by Vivek Menezes. Sabih Ahmed is the curator of ‘Ground Beneath My Feet’ and we caught up with him over green tea at the Asia Art Archive (AAA), where he is the Senior Researcher.

“What better place to stage interrogations on climate and migration, than a barge?” says Ahmed. He goes on the explain that a barge is a large flat-bottomed boat for carrying freight, usually soil and iron ore, along canals and rivers. This mobility of soil and resources becomes symbolic of the colonial history of Goa and the migration of people in the Indian subcontinent, which is also in line with the concerns of Diaspora across the world.

“The Barge will be the site for all the performances and installations. We chose this metaphor because it addresses the geopolitics of land and sea. There is an urgency to address these issues, because of climate change. With the water-table is rising, lands are shrinking and there is subsequent migration of people who have had to leave their homes as climate refugees. The barge is like a Trojan Horse inserted into history and it posits these questions,” says Ahmed. The cyclone that hit Goa’s beaches recently is testimony that it is indeed a pressing issue.

The scenography or mise-en-scene of the festival will be designed by artist-designer Vishal K Dar. He will be instrumental in creating the various avatars of the barge. There will be participating artists from Goa, Japan, Bangladesh, France and Russia to name a few. The primary performance in this segment will be carried out by Nikhil Chopra, Madhavi Gore and Jana Prepeluh. The three have collaborated before as performance artists who question history and location, in their performance Man Eats Rock, a picnic by snowcapped mountains. By and large Chopra’s work addresses both personal and collective cultural history to examine, amongst other things, the questions of identity, the role of autobiography, and the politics of posing and self-portraiture.

The artists will have an open studio to facilitate interaction with the public and students from various colleges conducting tours. The festival will address issues such as arts education, patronage culture, interdisciplinary discourse, and accessibility of the arts. The ‘Ground Beneath My Feet’ project also looks into the women’s movement. “We are of course looking mostly at the movement in Delhi, however it is representational of what was happening t the movement in the 1980s since people from all over the country came to Delhi to address issues around gender and body,” says Ahmed. Performances by Bhuto Dancers and artists like Yuko Kaseki will enliven the section on Gender. 

Another project to look forward to is the virtual reality project by Immersive technology journalist Nonny De La Peña. She will be recreating Lin Yi Lin’s 1995 piece, where he blocked the road by building a wall before it. The viewer will be invited to perform by creating the wall with Lin.

A question that often comes up when looking at destination art festivals, is how much do they involve the local people. It was a question asked of the Kochi Biennale as well, which has gained acceptance from the locals over time and is now part of the fabric of the city. Given that Riyas Komu is common to both the festivals it will be interesting to see how both the festivals occupy the public space in their own intrinsic way. “It is important to note that the KMB took place over a longer duration, so that now its part of the economy of the city. However, the Serendipity Arts Festival will happen over a concentrated period of eight days. In the past it has had a huge footfall of local Goa population attending the festival,” says Ahmed.

Given that the festival is free and interdisciplinary it does attract a fair amount of local participation and it remains to be asked if one would look at an artist like Chopra, who has taken up residence in Goa, as a local artist. “I think that the festival definitely throws open the arena to asking the questions who is a local and who is from outside Goa. It will be interesting, to see how the festival goes,” says Ahmed.

Looking at the rest of the events one can conclude that SAF 17’ has a lot to offer, both its locals and its visitors. In the music section, one can look forward to performances by Shubha Mudgal, Ranjit Barot, Sudhanva Deshpande and Shaaz Ahmed. In the theatre section contemporary exponents like Maya Krishna Rao, who will be performing Quality Street, a solo performance revolving around a Nigerian mother-daughter relationship and Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry who will be performing Dark Borders, a play based on Manto’s stories that looks at the various dimensions of violence.

The dance section will feature the Daksha Sheth Dance Company, performing ‘Sari: The Unstitched’, a celebration of the creation of this unique drape in constant play with the body. Aditi Mangaldas and Troupe will perform ‘Unchartered Seas’, a search for the intangible—truth, love and freedom—through movement. Rukmini Chatterjee and the Beijing Contemporary Dance Company will perform Shiv Yin, a Chinese contemporary and Indian classical dance and music composition. The Craft section will feature Serendipity Barefoot School of Craft: Made in Goa E Jaal, spearheaded by Annapurna Garimella and Dean D’Cruz.

The culinary segment will feature some of the local specialties like Vindaloo prepared by Joanne and Liz Da Cunha, while Mason and Co will conduct immersive tasting sessions and conversations around dark chocolate. Sarah Tod will be sharing her passion for seasonal produce, with emphasis on local ingredients, featuring the cheese traditions of India.

So, roll up your sleeves to feast on food, music, theatre and art this winter in Goa, down by the Mandovi riverside— it definitely looks like the place to be