Goa Open Arts Festival: Exploring Goan Identity Through Lens & Brush

Two recently relocated artists, Niharika Chauhan and Pretika Menon, tackled issues of identity and belonging amidst Goa's swiftly evolving terrain at this year's Goa Open Arts Festival


Since the onset of the pandemic, Goa has witnessed a continuous influx of settlers, visitors, and tourists, inundating the state. Serene villages like Parra and even Aldona are witnessing fragmentation due to rampant construction and excessive consumption, with gated communities sprouting amidst diminishing coconut groves. Despite the affluent cutting down trees for better views and heedless tourists leaving behind heaps of litter, both groups seem oblivious to the brewing resentment among locals. The term "outsider" has become commonplace, accompanied by a growing sense of animosity. This context makes themes of Goan identity, personal histories, and land politics particularly intriguing at this year's Goa Open Arts Festival.

Since February 2020, the festival has been showcasing a selection of artists based in Goa, encompassing both natives and those who have adopted the state as their home. While the festival presented a diverse array of artwork, it's undeniable that Goans have often been depicted with a sense of curiosity, yet from a distant perspective. These depictions often render the figures nameless, stripped of their identities, merely fleeting subjects for the photographers' lenses. However, the deliberate efforts of photographers like Niharika Chauhan and Pretika Menon aim to disrupt these conventional modes of perception.

Chauhan confronts the glaring issue head-on with her ongoing project, 'Second Home.' Through her photographs, Chauhan delves into the contrasting realities within her village. She captures the fading presence of long-time residents amid the emergence of new luxury residences, starkly juxtaposed against each other. Both Chauhan and Menon, as newcomers to the state, express a subtle longing for belonging through their work. Niharika explains, “Me and a bunch of my friends who moved to Goa around the same time, spend a lot of time engaging in discussions on us being the settlers and how we contribute to the community around us. I think this project originated from this feeling.”  'Second homes' have become a lucrative venture in Goa, attracting individuals eager to own property that can be rented out to tourists, providing a source of personal income without the hassle of construction or maintenance. However, the downside lies in the extensive deforestation and disruption of water and sanitation systems caused by these massive projects.

While Chauhan focuses on the encroachment of construction giants on Goa's landscape, Menon's series 'Dhon' invites viewers to engage and reflect. Through her lens, we peer into the lives of twins, Eulanda and Rustica, as if we're welcomed into their home. We observe their daily lives, from their dining table to their collection of curiosities, gaining intimate insight into their past and present. Menon captures the intricacies of their existence, from cobwebs to cherished possessions like Ostrich eggs, capturing the essence of their joy as they celebrate life's moments.

Menon recounts initiating the project after meeting the twins' mother, Eugene, during a stroll, leading to a friendship sparked by mutual curiosity. Their bond evolved over time, culminating in Menon being asked to capture a significant family event, which naturally evolved into the 'Dhon' project. Conscious of the photographer's influence in storytelling, Menon emphasizes the importance of relationships with the subjects. She reflects that it felt organic to invite Eugene and the twins to their exhibition. She wanted them to experience it in a grand setting, like the old GMC building in Panjim, a prestigious Goan landmark. Discovering that it was the same building where the twins were born felt serendipitous, a significant moment for them as friends.

Both 'Second Home' and 'Dhon' prompt newcomers in Goa to contemplate how they connect with the spaces they inhabit, and whether they should assert dominance or seek harmony with their surroundings.

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