A big draw

A big draw

A serendipitous effort to create a lasting artwork with significance for one of the most urgent environmental issues of our world today — water — gets a huge canvas along the river banks in Goa, writes Arti Das

The panels displayed at Art Park during the Serendipity Arts Festival 2019. PHOTOS BY AUTHOR

What would come to one’s mind, if you think of books, a library, a river, and a community art project? It will give out many ideas, but it will involve stories related to a river. So, is the project, ‘The Nhoi: Goa River Draw.’ It is described as one of India’s largest single collaborative drawing and its 80.6 metres (by putting together 14 panels) of vibrant imagery is a magnum opus of the imagination and a true celebration of the innate and thriving creativity of people everywhere.

This project is a spirit of creative enquiry to make a lasting artwork with significance and meaning for one of the most urgent environmental issues of our world today — water. Based on various workshops held in different parts of Goa, it was initiated by Bookworm Goa library and local librarians for a hands-on, active art activity in the company of family, friends, and neighbours. These workshops were based on various state-run libraries which are situated along the banks of Mhadei or the Mandovi River. It included places where 14 libraries are situated in places like Sattari, Chorao, Kundaim, Kudchire, Ambedem, Marcel, Old Goa, Collem, Tisk-Usgaon, Khandepar, Sarvarche, Verem, Volvoi, and Panaji.

The final drawings of this project that involved 14 panels representing 14 libraries across Goa, was recently displayed at the Serendipity Arts Festival titled ‘Nhoi—The Big Reveal’.

At the Serendipity Arts Festival 2018, they had presented two panels from Panaji and Verem village, which was part of the exhibition, ‘Panjim 175’ curated by Vivek Menezes and Swati Salgaocar. This river draw project is the brainchild of the Bookworm Trust Library and these workshops were co-supported by Directorate of Art and Culture and Goa State Central Library.

Activate libraries

These workshops, which started in January 2018, involved over 500 people, aged anywhere from three to 93 years, and 12 communities. It focused on encouraging these people to draw their river, the memories associated with reminiscence and reflection. “The project started with an aim to activate the libraries, as there 121 state-funded libraries in Goa. During this process, we realised that a major chunk of these libraries were around the Mhadei/Mandovi River and also Bookworm wanted to do a community art project for long. So, everything just came together organically,” says Rhea D’Souza, Nhoi project architect.

The process started by involving village libraries and inviting interested villagers to come to a library and draw images revolving around the river. “We asked them just three questions — what’s your river memory, knowledge about it and what’s your vision for your river,” says D’Souza.

All these participants were given guidelines and necessary steps when it came to making the community drawing. It included bringing all people — young and old, interacting, sharing their knowledge and bringing it out on the sheet of paper that was placed on the ground.

“We wanted a theme that would reach the minds, memories, and concerns of those who know the river and understand what this vital resource means, both in local terms and also with a wider reference to the global climate emergency and the changes that are affecting our planet,” says Scottish artist Liz Kemp, who framed guidelines and worked as a facilitator of this project. Kemp also mentioned that she wanted to work on such a community project for some time now. “A Big Drawing is about people and making the experience of drawing a meaningful activity, full of relevance to daily issues and the ideas that people have in relation to their community and its place in the world,” adds Kemp who has around 40 years experience in community art and opines that expressing oneself through art is as much of a birthright as breathing.

Stories abound

Tallulah D’Silva, an architect who was part of the Panaji panel states, “While mapping a river is in itself an interesting exercise, the stories that are shared and woven into the immersive experience is what makes it truly special. Finally, what is an illustration or drawing of a place or river? It’s a story, a memory. Without the story, it remains as something that you are unable to connect with.”

D’Souza, while explaining about the 13 panels which were displayed at an Art Park during the festival mentioned that each panel is distinct and every village river and the people who drew it, added to its flavour.

Rock solid

These panels include the regular drawings of a river, bordered with a drawing of human feet (it was part of the guidelines), fish, crocodiles, dolphins and some other drawings that define that place. Like in the Sarvarche village in North Goa, an elderly lady guided the youngsters to draw a black boulder, near the river. D’Souza states that in the year 1964, this area got flooded but the area around this boulder got saved. So, the locals started revering this piece of rock. In other places like Kundaim, drawings included highways or the puran sheti, a farming method which is usually held on the banks of the river.

For D’Souza the most interesting workshop was at Volvoi village where they had to use two panels as the workshop brought 200 villagers together. “It could be because it is a mining-affected place and somehow these villagers felt responsible towards the river and felt the need to speak about it,” says D’Souza.

This whole journey brought out many revelations related to a river, which are not-so-known. The one fascinating aspect was the discoveries and documentation of various terms used in the local Konkani language to describe the river. 

Kemp explains it includes words that are slipping silently from the language as the things that carry the names disappear — like fish that no longer swim in the river, plants that have died out, games that used to be played, forgotten songs, and so on.

Mhadei or the Mandovi River is also marred with issues of water pollution like many rivers of the country. So, that indeed came up in these drawings as now, due to the construction of dams, the river’s profile has changed. “I remember a teenager telling me that he used to swim in this river but now he can’t,” says D’Souza.

Speaking of the future, D’Souza elaborated that now they are in the process of compiling all this information and documenting it through publishing it on social media and on websites and eventually publish a book as this whole project revolves around libraries and stories.

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