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For The Love Of Art

The Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa brought together different art forms, music, dance and theatre performance under one roof

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Look MA, I made it rain,” said an excited 7-year-old to his astounded mother. The young child stood under an umbrella in a make shift shower area with ‘rain’ pouring down, as part of an exhibit called Think Tank. On his forehead he wore a band with EEG sensors that captured the electrical or neuron activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. As he concentrated, the sensors triggered an electrical signal that ‘made it rain’.

The child’s excitement was palpable and soon there was a queue of enthusiastic people waiting for their turn.

The Think Tank, part of an exhibition called The Entanglement — referred to as a dance between art and science — was conceptualised and produced by the Centre for Experimental Media Arts at Bangalore-based Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology. Abhiyan Humane, a faculty member, explained it as an experiment that merges and blurs the boundaries between form and experience.

When I landed in Panjim, Goa, last month for the Serendipity Arts Festival (SAF), I was looking forward to seeing the best of performing and fine arts. However, experiencing science as an art form was not something I expected.

But then that is what made SAF so different — it pushed boundaries. Consider a performance called Memory Recipe by Aruna Ganesh Ram that aimed to rekindle your memories related to food. As part of the performance, you stepped into a darkened room and sat around a table, like in a restaurant. The table lit up to reveal a circular plate — the plate itself was a play of light. An environment of chatter erupted as you heard people saying different things, about life, food and flavours. In the background, you heard sounds like that of a pressure cooker whistle going off, of mustard seeds sizzling in oil, and multiple other familiar sounds from the kitchen. The air filled with smells of ginger, garlic, cloves, etc., triggering memories of food and building an appetite.

The performer, dressed as a chef started talking to the audience, telling them stories about cooking and inviting them to go back in time, to rediscover food and conversations.

By the end of the 10 minute immersive experience all your senses were aroused and you walked out of the room with a huge appetite.

The Serendipity Arts Festival, over a period of eight days, provided art enthusiasts, school and college students, tourists, etc., with a range of such experiences. The festival brought together over a 1,000 artists and 14 curators in varied fields such as theatre, dance, music, arts, crafts and culinary arts — all on the same platform. Organised by the Serendipity Arts Trust with Hero group’s Sunil Kant Munjal as its founder patron, the festival will now be an annual feature in Goa. “The idea was to build a world class festival platform for Indian arts. There are lots of things happening across the country but they are in bits and pieces. We wanted to bring everything to one place,” explains Munjal.

Over 150 artists and craftsmen displayed their work at the Adil Shah Palace — a beautiful 15th century building with its sloping tiled roofs, carved stone coats of arms and wooden verandahs, built by Yusuf Adil Shah. In the years gone by, it was one of the most important buildings in Goa. From the ruling king’s palace, to the Viceroy’s residence under the Portuguese to being the Secretariat/Legislature of the State of Goa, the Adil Shah Palace was always the seat of power till a few years back when the Secretariat was moved and the building was abandoned. Now it has been revived as an exhibition venue. “The arts as we know it today are not the way they were being practiced 300 years ago. There were no silos for arts, crafts, theatre and music to be separate. They used to work together and of course the major patrons were royalty. So we thought it will be fitting to start the festival at a palace itself,” says Munjal.

Walking along the halls and corridors of the erstwhile palace I was surrounded with art and craft in various forms. If there were beautiful textiles hanging in one room, there were gigantic oils on canvas in another, while a third focussed on maps, and yet another on photographs —different tales told by different artists through different mediums, all under one roof. There was also a lot of focus on crafts, be it paper cutting or metal work. “We want to revive the arts and crafts as a source of livelihood. Our curators interacted with the craftspeople and helped them tweak their work to make them more desirable by the contemporary art collectors,” explained Munjal as I admired terracotta tiles displayed along a wall.

While the day was devoted to the visual arts, the performances in the evenings curated by stalwarts such as Subha Mudgal and Lillete Dubey were the highlight of the festival. There were music, dance and theatre performances that left everyone asking for more and waiting eagerly for the next round of the festival.