In June 2022, a video surfaced online of a tourist driving a sports utility vehicle up and down Goa’s Anjuna beach. The vehicle soon ended up lodged firmly in the slippery sand and crashing waves. The video sparked outrage but for Goans it was just another instance – though a bit more egregious than usual – of disregard for the state Indians consider their personal party house.
Goa-based artist Angela Ferrão depicts this accurately in one of her cartoons: a tow-truck is parked on a beach and two visitors ask a man seated on a raised chair where the lifeguard is. “We save cars from the beach,” he replies. “Or the beach from the cars,” they say to him.
Come winter, tourist season begins in Goa with an ever-increasing number of visitors looking to let their hair down in the tiny coastal state. Since the Covid-19 pandemic and related restrictions have eased, tourist numbers have surged with the state recording nearly 50 lakh visitors in 2022 as of September that year, far outstripping Goa’s population of just over 15 lakh.
For years, Goans have struggled to draw attention to the toll of excess tourism to no avail. It is not only ecological and cultural but at times also downright boorish behaviour – already, the state’s forest department is preparing to tackle instances of tourists recklessly driving their two-wheelers and four-wheelers onto beaches, cases of which have increased.
With the aptly-named exhibition The Uninvited, Ferrão hopes to highlight the sentiment of Goans, pressed in from all sides and forced to witness an endless, loud party in their homes that they haven’t been invited to. “I hope this exhibition will draw attention to the concerns of Goans in their own homeland, as well as issues faced by Goans who actually hold up our way of life,” said Ferrão.
It is Goa’s fishing communities, farmers and the bulk of Goan society who maintain the land and sustain Goan culture, says Ferrão. “Presently, it is these Goans who are thrust in the rough and tumble of the hedonistic lifestyle that comes with Goa being sold as a tourism or second home destination, a place that will make you happy just by owning a piece of it,” she said.
Exhibit curator R Benedito Ferrão, unrelated to Angela Ferrão, underlined that local perspectives are important, “especially from a place like Goa”. “There is quite the history of the region being depicted as one that serves as a site for the pleasure of others,” he said.
Angela Ferrão and R Benedito Ferrão, in a conversation with Deborah Al-Najjar, said that the exhibition is an attempt to make Goan art accessible to Goans and challenge misrepresentations of Goans themselves.
For instance, says Angela Ferrão, the misconception that Goans are dependent on tourism ignores the huge incoming remittances from Goans abroad.
“While tourism has become an economic mainstay in Goa, the party economy pays little heed to Goans and their culture, treating the land as a place where fun is paramount and local concerns, including environmental ones, are sidelined,” points out Benedito Ferrão.
At the same time, Goans as well as the state are often represented or perceived as more “liberal” where anything goes. “While social gatherings with music and dancing are culturally commonplace, these still operate with expectations of decorum,” said Benedito Ferrão. “Mainstream depictions of life in Goa – in advertisements, films, and other visual representations – twist such cultural nuance, very often by showing Goans to be hypersexual or overly indulgent with alcohol.”
For Angela Ferrão, the exhibition is also a way to push back against the perception of “sussegad” or laidback, by drawing attention to the activism and people’s movements to save Goa’s environment. “It has been a convenient label to disempower all the efforts of our activism to save our land, culture, and way of life,” she said.
Goa needs to be viewed differently, said Benedito Ferrão, and Goa’s artists have been leading the charge in how this can happen.
Tell us about the exhibition and what you wish audiences to gather from it.
Angela Ferrão: I do not claim to represent every Goan, but as a Goan I react through my art to current issues in Goa. Accordingly, I hope this exhibition – The Uninvited – will draw attention to the concerns of Goans in their own homeland, as well as issues faced by Goans who actually hold up our way of life. Here, I am referring to the fishing communities, farmers, and the bulk of Goan society who maintain the land and sustain Goan culture.
Presently, it is these Goans who are thrust in the rough and tumble of the hedonistic lifestyle that comes with Goa being sold as a tourism or second home destination, a place that will make you happy just by owning a piece of it.
Through my collaboration with curator R Benedito Ferrão (no relation!), a Goan academic who teaches in America, this exhibition brings a Goan perspective to a local public that does not often get to view work by artists of Goan origin. Such opportunities for Goan artists are as small and shrinking as the Goan coastline.
What is your vision, respectively, as the artist and the curator?
Angela Ferrão: I put my work out there to create awareness about Goan communities that are under pressure to relinquish their land and traditional way of life, and especially to give way to leisure activities. One example of this is Nauxim in north Goa, where locals have been trying to fend off the development of a marina project that would affect the area’s ecology and the livelihoods of traditional fishing communities.
R Benedito Ferrão: Local perspectives are important, especially from a place like Goa. There is quite the history of the region being depicted as one that serves as a site for the pleasure of others. This is evident in Indian cinema and the mainstream media, all of which have obscured what Goa means to its own people.
Goan artists have portrayed local culture and sentiment but rarely get to share their work (locally or elsewhere). What I have admired about Angela Ferrão (and as we often point out, we are not related!) is her ability to chronicle local goings-on in her art. As a satirist, she has consistently relayed the views of Goans – in newspapers, academic publications, and very often on social media.
Her pithy evocations of Goan life are diverse, covering such contemporary issues as tourism and environmental degradation, but also a longer historical terrain, including Goan diasporic life and the cultural ethos of Goa’s Catholic community. However, Angela’s work is not only a lament over loss. Rather, she also highlights the actions taken by Goans in response to the issues that affect them. In her art, one sees dissent and the shape this takes is remarkable, for it even represents older Goan women from villages functioning as activists who have something to say about what is happening in their homeland.
In curating this show, I wanted to spotlight how Angela takes inspiration from community but does so not as a silent observer. What I mean is that Angela is someone who sees her art as an extension of the voice of her community.
How did you two decide to work on this specific project together? What was your key motivation?
Angela Ferrão: I am inclined to collaborate with academics like Benedito. I find there to be a resonance between his writing and my art, because his scholarship about Goa adds value to my own observations. It’s always motivating because my work then reaches a larger international audience.
R Benedito Ferrão: It began with us working on the comic book The Uninvited Host: Goa and the Parties not Meant for its People, which will be released in coincidence with the exhibition at Gallery Gitanjali. As an academic who writes about Goan representation, I want to create work that bridges my research and readership beyond the academy.
I especially want it to be accessible to the communities that I write about. A comic book offers an ideal way to do this and I was lucky to be able to work with Angela, as well as our graphic designer, Vanessa de Sa.
The comic book is thus a collaborative effort and works in tandem with Angela’s art exhibition in showcasing how she gives voice to Goan concerns about tourism, animal habitat and ecology, or how economic changes affect culture.
I have followed Angela’s career for a while now and found it surprising that her work had not been publicly exhibited in Goa before. Then again, perhaps this is not a surprise given that there is no public venue where Goans can see art by Goan artists. The purpose of art, especially satire, is to generate discussion and I hope that this exhibition will do just that. Angela’s first solo show will serve as an event where The Uninvited Host can have a public release, making the artist’s oeuvre and message accessible to many.
Tell us about the Goan public and their relationship to tourism, as well as the economic pressures Goa faces in partaking of an industry that, by default, must cater to outsiders.
Angela Ferrão: There is a misconception that Goans rely wholly on the tourism industry, ignoring the massive remittances coming into the local economy from NRI Goans. Tourism has eroded much of Goa’s peace and tranquility and made real estate unaffordable. Goans of humble means find it impossible to own a home in their own villages, let alone elsewhere in the state.
R Benedito Ferrão: This is certainly a topic that Angela’s art addresses directly and which is captured in our comic book. Despite its history as a favored destination for hippies from the West in the 1960s and 1970s, present-day party tourism in Goa largely attracts Indian travelers. This is a product of the post-1990s liberalisation of the Indian economy, coupled with the exoticisation of Goa, which has rendered it a pleasure periphery to the subcontinent – a sort of internally exotic playground.
In large part, this has to do with the coastal region having been a Portuguese colony until 1961. For the rest of India, and thanks to how Goa has often been represented for public consumption, its “difference” has been parlayed to suggest a more liberal milieu. For instance, while social gatherings with music and dancing are culturally commonplace, these still operate with expectations of decorum. Mainstream depictions of life in Goa – in advertisements, films, and other visual representations – twist such cultural nuance, very often by showing Goans to be hypersexual or overly indulgent with alcohol.
While tourism has become an economic mainstay in Goa, the party economy pays little heed to Goans and their culture, treating the land as a place where fun is paramount and local concerns, including environmental ones, are sidelined.
Would you say that your art functions as social criticism?
Angela Ferrão: It seems to function that way. This includes it being viewed as criticism, which in turn means it is often disregarded and shelved away as “nativism” or “xenophobia.” So no real dialogue happens.
Any last thoughts you want to share?
Angela Ferrão: I hope through this exhibition people will stop viewing the Goans as “sussegad” (laid back). It has been a convenient label to disempower all the efforts of our activism to save our land, culture, and way of life.
R Benedito Ferrão: I hope more Goan artists will have their work displayed locally and even beyond Goa, but with the understanding that their art is from and speaks to a culture and place that is more than just about hedonistic consumption. Goan art and other cultural production bears witness to the region’s history and global ties, as well as the concerns of its people for their homeland’s environment and way of life. Goa needs to be viewed differently and Goa’s artists have been leading the charge in how this can happen.
The Uninvited will be on display from December 7-18 at the Gallery Gitanjali, Panjim Pousada in Fontainhas, Goa.
R Benedito Ferrão is a writer, academic, and curator. He is presently an Assistant Professor of English and Asian & Pacific Islander American Studies at William & Mary, Virginia, USA.