By Nicole Suares
When air pollution in New Delhi reached dangerous levels, artist Vibha Galhotra echoed the urgency of hazards in her installation ‘Breath by Breath’ (2016-2017). Here in Goa, artists joined forces to raise awareness against the three proposed linear projects during the Save Mollem campaign.
Now, when the diversion of the Mhadei river could jeopardize Goa’s ecological balance, art voiced a protest with Panjim-based Miriam Koshy’s recent ‘मãi: Mhadei’che Rakhandar’ (Guardian Spirits of Mhadei), an environmental art installation.
Environmental art is relatively new to Goa. The concept emerged in the late 1980s with international artist Betty Beaumont’s socially conscious underwater ‘Ocean Landmark.’ This form of art raises concerns about various issues posing a threat to Mother Nature through works that engage and connect to the community.
It gradually found a following with artists across the world. With Goa’s Mhadei at risk, Miriam’s artistic representation of the seven Guardian Spirits celebrated the beauty of Goa’s natural biodiversity while calling attention to the need for conservation.
As she writes in her artist statement, she strongly believes in the “power of public art, taking art from less accessible spaces like galleries and museums with the intention of holding space to process ecological grief and evoke awareness and meaningful responses to climate change and environmental issues through community engagement installations, performances and festivals.”
Miriam’s installation of rakhondars at the ‘Poetry in Colour’ group exhibition at the Centro de Lingua Portuguesa and subsequent display at the World Heritage Day event at Fundação Oriente, Panjim, organised by the Goa Heritage Action Group, was ‘an offering to the River Mhadei, following its flow, not only into and through Goa, but through each one of us that lives here.’
ABOUT THE WORK
Her work was inspired by the traditional Bojagi, a Korean style of patchwork. Instead of stitching together her pieces like the Koreans do, she artistically starched and stuck pieces of gauze on the half human forms to give shape to each of her life-size rakhondars.
It was a knee injury that sparked her interest in the unconventional fabric.
The multi-disciplinary artist says, “When I went to Kerala for Marmam therapy, I would undo the gauze and play with it. That phase gave me a lot of time to think about the material. I work with mediums and processes that choose me. I feel most deeply connected to the visceral nature of gauze which imbues within itself pain and healing, fragility and strength, a bringing together and tearing apart, the warp and woof of life and the inter-connectedness of it all.”
Each rakhondar brought to life Goa’s vibrant eco-systems, which the River Mhadei nurtures along her journey from its origin to the Arabian Sea. The earthy colours transported viewers from the flourishing forests in Ran’achi Rakhondar (Forest Guardian) to the green pastures in Khazan’acho Rakhondar.
Her representation of the khazan lands showcased the bundhs (with strips of gauze on either sides) with details of prawns, tiger prawns, crabs, chonak, kalunder and mutre and other small fish representations.
At the estuary, Miriam added gauze cut outs of local fish like kalunder (black pearl spot), kullio, valay, dekale, khavale and toki.
She even added a few ghost fish to the estuary rakhondar to depict the ones that would go extinct, following an increase in salinity in the estuary, if the freshwater supply were to go down, in the event of the diversion of the headwaters of the Mhadei.
On Miriam’s invitation, poet Salil Chaturvedi and dancer Pushpanjali Sharma shared their interpretation of the Mhadei and her rakhondars. Reading his poem, Mhadei, at both events, Salil’s poetic tribute was thus: ‘As I step into your sediment, will my soles find the sponge of stories, or will they slip away into a soul-less sludge…’
Stories on the Mhadei fill the daily newspapers. Pushpanjali used her performance to go beyond the intellect and allow audiences to ‘empathetically experience through the artist what it is to connect to an issue from a deeper place within them.’
While we have become desensitized to pertinent issues, Pushpanjali says, “Art allows us to soften in the places we have hardened, it becomes a medium for us to process our feelings and express our authentic thoughts.”
Through her dance, Pushpanjali drew an intimate connection with the river by seeking to ‘enable the River MhaDei – MahaDevi or Mai to find you and meet you where you are.’
Her well thought out and engaging performance in a packed room at the Centro de Lingua Portuguesa led guests through a series of interventions. Her body became the medium to personify the Mhadei, exploring her flow through the ‘Dance of the River’, even mouthing a song on behalf of the river ̶ “I’ve been in the waters around your sons and daughters in your wombs. I know what it's like to live underneath your skin, I know where your bones have been.”
She led audiences into a deeper connection with the river by asking them to form a circle. Once people held a single length of gauze, depicting the river, she invited members to voice what the river meant to them and discover their personal relationship with the river.
The fight for Mhadei is far from over. The Earthivist Collective are now organizing a festival to celebrate and pray for the river, entitled ‘Mhadei Amchi Mai’—A Human Chain for Mhadei.’
According to Miriam, founding member of the Earthivist Collective, “This is a call to the river’s children to become her river guardians.” They call upon the public to join hands to form a human chain on May 20, 2023 from 4 pm to 6 pm starting from Caranzalem Beach, Panjim, to Santa Monica Jetty, Panim. Here too, the Collective has asked artists to bring their art for the cause and have invited interventions (Install/Perform/Make) during the formation of the human chain.
In the closing prayer to her performance, Pushpanjali ended with these words: “Each step matters, each breath matters, each life matters...oh, Ma. I pray for an order that saves your precious waters, I pray.”