At the very end of an excruciatingly painful year punctuated by mass protests and the hateful politics of exclusion in so many places across the world, a very beautiful multidimensional artwork in Goa reminded us there still remain viable alternative ways of being and belonging. This was the India debut of Brendan Fernandes, at the fourth edition of Serendipity Arts Festival in Panjim, capping an extraordinary year for the 40-year-old Kenya-born Canadian-Goan.
Earlier this year, the New York Times described his work at the Guggenheim’s Young Collectors Council spring gala as a “genre-bending and boundary-pushing method that melds dance with visual art”. A few months later, I got the chance to see his “The Master and Form” at the Whitney Biennial in New York, and found myself unexpectedly mesmerised by the 50-minute performance by ballet dancers who – as the sun set outside the magnificent floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Highline – gave us long moments of breathless tension interspersed with surpassing beauty.
“This piece is about creating empowerment,” Fernandes told the New Yorker. “I’m a really nice master.” But it also invited persistent questions about where power lies in the art world, and that’s what played on my mind for a long time afterwards.
Given that experience, it was quite surreal for me to collaborate and curate Fernandes’s first-ever artwork for India, which dug deep into Konkani-Goan culture to derive inspiration from the affectionate Konkani greeting (most often used in farewell) – Mog Asundi, which means “let there be love (between us)”.
With regard to this message of acceptance and inclusion, we thought it perfectly apt to spell it out in each of the five scripts regularly used to write Konkani: Devanagiri, Roman, Kannada, Malayalam, and Perso-Arabic (it is the only language in the world in regular use in so many different forms).
We printed thousands of posters, tiles and t-shirts, which were distributed freely in Goa, most especially on the sidelines of the choreographed interventions that took place at four different festival venues.
These choreographed performances by young dancers of the Goa Dance Residency provided a sublime art experience.
The most memorable and meaningful performance took place in the stunning balcony
of the Adil Shah palace on the Panjim waterfront, the 500-year-old
architectural masterpiece that bears testimony to every layer of Goa’s
marvelously confluential civilisational ethos.
On that very day, much of the rest of the country was fraught with anxiety, violence and huge
demonstrations against the Citizenship Amendment Act. But here, we saw dancers spread out to express themselves individually, even while a scrum of onlookers
gathered, and many more people wound their way through the area:
waiters, customers, security guards, artists, many curious children.
Eventually, the dancers began to move as one, surging in one direction and then another – but still carefully leaving ample room for everyone else to do whatever they wanted, all around them. Here was an acute metaphor and lesson in how we can find space for each other, in some kind of self-respect and harmony. A message from Goa to the world. Mog Asundi, everyone.
Read all the articles in the Art of Resistance series here.