Over the years, Goa has seen the work of several artists whose work is note-worthy.
Sunaparanta Goa Centre for the Arts, Altinho, Panjim, offers the VM Salgaocar Fellowship Grants, which aim to recognise excellent and outstanding achievements of cultural professionals who have been instrumental in bringing forth critical new projects and whose work can contribute to the enrichment of our creative landscape.
Among the recipients of the VM Salgaocar Fellowship Grants are Kalpit Gaonkar and Afrah Shafiq. The latter uses research as an artistic playground, intertwines history, memory, folklore, fantasy and archival findings, thus creating a speculative world of remix cultures across various mediums.
She draws inspiration from traditional folk forms and connects them to the digital language of the internet and video games.
The starting point for her project was the popularity of illustrated fairy tales and stories in children's books, a by-product of Sovietland, a magazine published in thirteen Indian languages, distributed and sold across India, during the Cold War when India and the Soviet Union maintained cordial relations and focused on cultural exchange.
In several South Asian countries, one finds a thriving sub-culture of collectors who grew up from the 1960s to the mid-1980s, on these out-of-print books, holding on to nostalgia from their childhood memories, with a deep affection for a nation that was never theirs and which no longer exists.
Against this backdrop, Afrah aims to explore the world of children’s books of that era, how stories and storytelling, influenced by notions of the nation, can be playful and dangerous, (both, controlled and subversion).
The illustrations simultaneously straddled the world of Skazka (fairy tale), drawing on a rich tradition of folk forms – lubok print, lacquer miniatures, textile and decorative arts, and the Mir Isskustva (World of Art) and Art Nouveau movements.
They focused on space, industry, and new nation and citizen, influenced aesthetically by the avant-garde, geometric abstraction, constructivism and endeavours to dismantle the story and study what it might reveal about the imagination of the nation’s idea of utopia, and the place for fantasy in a world that was increasingly leaning toward industry and realism.
Afrah says, “The research finds its starting point in Vladimir Propp’s almost data scientist-like analysis of the morphology of the folk tale, where ‘within the labyrinth of the tale’s multi-formity’ becomes apparent in amazing uniformity, paying particular attention to the tropes of a distant land of possibilities, from Lukomorye to the Thrice-Nine Tsardom – the field of mushrooms as a site for seekers, the evolution of archetypes such as the Sirin bird, to Babushka Baba Yaga.”
Afrah is an illustrator, animator, research fellow at the Institute of Advance Studies in Nantes, France, video editor and producer of various projects in documentary film, visual arts and internet. From 2018 – 2021, she exhibited at international and Indian Art shows, Biennales, festivals in Europe, USA, and art galleries in India.
She has been developing a new work titled ‘Nobody Knows for Certain’ around illustrated books from the Soviet Era, with support from the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow, by creating a new narrative that infuses familiar characters, plot patterns, and worlds with newer philosophical and political dimensions, which will emerge as part of the research process.
Kalpit Gaonkar is researching and archiving his cultural and social heritage, while experimenting with varied mediums and materials, layers and sounds.
“I come from Netravali, a remote village in South Goa, 90 km from Panjim, from a tribal background, rich in culture, and have always been intrigued by the customs, traditions and folk artists who have a wide range of talents, including my father who was into drama and dance. I guess my first exposure and interest towards any form of art comes from him. As I grew older, I participated in folk theatre and dance performances. My first exposure to visual art was from my uncle who taught me the basics of sculpting; then my teacher in high school who taught me different forms and possibilities in visual art,” is how Kalpit’s journey started.
Joining Goa College of Art, Altinho, Panjim, was a contrasting scenario from his rural environment. Perceiving urban life for the first time was a major culture shock. The Bachelor’s degree curriculum was mostly skill-driven. While perusing his Master’s Degree in Fine Arts (2015-2017) from Sarojini Naidu School of Fine Arts and Communication, Hyderabad, he came upon the possibility of focusing on tribal heritage and lifestyle.
Teaching art in a school in his village for 4 years was a learning experience. He quit to devote time researching the origins of tribal lifestyle, how it has been compromised and completely manipulated by various external forces.
He spent time collecting stories and memories coded in their festivals through songs and performances, and developing an investigative approach of archiving facts and data.
He travelled to various Betal tribe structures, interviewing the tribals of Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka for a video on change and manipulations in tribal forms of worship.
“This Scholarship gives me a platform to showcase my work – which is important for any young artist – and enables me to set things in motion for a video project. I have started filming some parts of Canacona, Goa. My future plans are mostly centered around my current research and video art,” he shares.
He’s currently collaborating with Clare Arni, a Bangalore-based visual artist on a documentary on River Kaveri.