Bahujan Leaders, Not Bahujan Faces

By KAUSTUBH NAIK

The student union elections at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi recently concluded with the Left Unity Panel, a political alliance between Student Federation of India and All India Student’s Association, winning all the four posts on the student panel. The student politics at the JNU campus has always been a closely watched affair and following the national attention that JNU had garnered after controversial slogans raising events in February this year. In this election, both left and right wing parties on the JNU campus jostled to capture the field after the highly acrimonious and divisive scenes following the state’s crackdown on JNU in response to the aforementioned events in February.

 

While these two factions battled for their dominance on the JNU campus, the Birsa Ambedkar Phule Student Association (BAPSA) emerged as the show stealer, despite not being able to win any of the central panel posts. BAPSA was the single largest party to be voted in the JNU student union polls. BAPSA gave a clarion call for the unity of the oppressed, ensuring that Dalits, Bahujans, Adivasis, Muslim students came together to consolidate a formidable opposition not only to the Hindutva forces on the campus, but also to the leftist political outfits that otherwise claim to be in solidarity with the struggles of the oppressed.

 

BAPSA positioned itself as a political force of the minoritised sections of the students, with opposition to caste as a fundamental basis on which its politics was founded. The rise of BAPSA in JNU is in tune with the various caste based movements emerging from different parts of India, such as the resistance of the Dalit communities in Gujarat under the leadership of Jignesh Mewani, or the nationwide movement that was spurred after the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula, a research scholar at the University of Hyderabad. These political uprisings are indicative of a pattern wherein Dalit-Bahujan and minoritised communities are altering not only the narrative of the Indian politics, but its grammar too.

 

One manner in which BAPSA has been able to do this is to launch a vocal critique of the Indian leftist political outfits which, for decades, have been positioning themselves as the vanguards of secular and liberal politics in India. However, these left political outfits are very much plagued by the caste hierarchy with upper castes holding (onto) key political positions. Moreover, the anti-reservation stance of these leftist groups during the implementation of the Mandal commission report or even their unfounded critique of Ambedkar and Ambedkarism is also indicative of their outlook towards caste politics.The newer Dalit bahujan political outfits, such as the BAPSA, have been consistently highlighting the inherent casteism within the left parties, arguing that they are no different from their right wing counterparts.

 

In this context, the takeaways from BAPSA’s politics offer some interesting insights to rethink bahujan politics in Goa. The bahujan communities within Hindu and Catholic communities, have played a crucial role in shaping Goa’s political scenario. All parties field bahujan candidates to ensure maximum success. However, this representation of Bahujans within the political outfits in Goa has often, if not always, been reduced into mere tokenistic representation. A look at the recent political outfits that are gearing up for the upcoming assembly elections in Goa would tell you that though all these parties are promising assured representation of bahujan and minoritised communities, their supreme leaders are predominantly upper caste individuals. Most of the parties have their bahujan faces in cadre that does the groundwork but when it comes to assuming leadership positions, it has always been dominated by the upper caste leaders of these parties.

 

The implications of such usurping of positions of power by upper caste leaders are many. Firstly, while most of the parties will claim that they represent interests of all communities, the interests of the upper caste communities get preference by the virtue of them being led by the upper caste members themselves. Secondly, it renders the bahujan leadership within the party ineffective; the bahujan leaders lack the power to counter the assertion of upper caste interests because they understandably try not to rock the boat so as to maintain whatever position of influence they have within the party. Thus, the bahujan leaders are rendered as baits to garner bahujan support while the upper caste power structure does not allow them to safeguard political interests of the bahujan communities.

 

BAPSA’s act of distancing itself from the left parties on JNU campus is precisely to overcome such usurping of power. BAPSA has no qualms about clearly indicating whose interests they are representing and remain committed to foregrounding the struggles of the oppressed communities. Similarly, Goan bahujan politics needs to be reinvented to distance itself from the political outfits that operate not in the bahujan interest, but to serve upper caste interests disguised as those representing a cross section section of the Goan society.Instead, a bahujan alliance that brings together both, the Hindu and Catholic bahujan communities in agreement of sharing power can go long way in changing the fate of bahujan communities in Goa. Otherwise the upper caste leaders will continue to remain in positions of power, not only through the support of aforementioned bahujan faces but also at the cost of bahujan communities’ access to social and political upliftment.

 

(First published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 22 September, 2016)

 

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No Bamboo Banawing!

By VISHVESH KANDOLKAR

bamboo-construction

Guadua Bamboo Timarai Beach Resort in Costa Rica by Ing. Alejandro Restrepo. *You may use our pictures on blogs or websites, provided that you credit us with an anchor link to: Guadua Bamboo

On a recent visit to the Konkan Bamboo and Cane Development Centre (KONBAC) at Kudal, I came to know that there has been a drastic change in strategy to promote bamboo as construction material. Rather than endorsing bamboo as an affordable material for the poor, especially to build cost-effective houses, it is now being popularised as a material that satisfies the upwardly mobile elites’ fad of sustainability. Although the desire to replace unsustainable materials is laudable, the question is whether these projects, using bamboo, are truly as sustainable as they claim to be? Moreover, there also arises an issue of appropriation of material culture, especially of the poor in tribal areas by the dominant elites.

One of the strongest criticisms of the appropriation of the architecture of the poor has been made by the sociologist Anthony King, who writes that the rich often appropriate the architecture of farmer’s cottages (farmhouses) for their vacation homes (which are usually their second or third home). These elites, King observes, only absorb the aesthetics of a farmer’s house and not their lifestyle. The problem of the cultural appropriation of marginalized cultures without assimilation of the marginalized population seems to be prevalent everywhere. Raising the issues of cultural appropriation of hairstyles is a recent video titled Don’t Cash Crop on My Cornrows by Amandla Stenberg. There are many similarities between hairstyle and architecture. Both are about identity, and clearly about style. In so many ways, hairstyles are, in fact, a form of architecture. Stenberg’s major criticism is that white Americans love black culture more than they love the black people.The video demonstrates how hip-hop and pop have been appropriated from African American culture especially in terms of hairdos such as pleats, cornrows and so forth, while continuing with the racist hatred towards black people. These hairdos, as Stenberg notes, are ways in which black hair is kept from knotting. Stenberg laments that while these hairdos are stereotypical of the community, when white Americans adopts them, they turn into high fashion. This is a similar way in which vernacular architecture gets appropriated when architect claim them as ‘contemporary-vernacular style’. While the rich appropriate the poor farmer’s cottages to model their vacation-homes, these houses are always fitted with appliances and systems (air-conditioning etc.) needed for the comfort of upmarket modern living, which the vacationers cannot do without. Additionally there is also a failure to acknowledge the role of vernacular people, the ones who have championed the use of sustainable materials and forms in the first place.

In his book, The System of Objects, Jean Baudrillard argues that a suburbanite who aspires to move up into a higher class usually does so by buying antiques – symbols of old social position brought with new money. Essentially, he argues that the upwardly mobile class signal their social standing through material signs such as antique furniture, works of art, and so forth. Today, it is materials like bamboo that are being pressed into the service of consumption, because they give the image of sustainability. Using bamboo is fast becoming fashionable as appearing sustainable can symbolize that one has truly arrived in the elite world. Bauldrillard further discusses that every object has two functions – to be put to use and to be possessed. While a plastic chair in a living room can be put to use, it never seem to be dearly possessed, whereas the antique voltaire, may at times not even be used but is dearly possessed as an object. The argument for the bamboo is similar. The rich use it in an attempt to possess it as an object rather than utilising it functionally. It seems that the dominant cultures intermittently stoop to peripheral ones in order to appropriate from them, without the guilt of further marginalizing them. The violence is doubled as the poor are made to believe that there is legitimacy in the marginalized culture only when there is a sanction of it by the dominant ones.

The use of bamboo as ‘sustainable’ material in the construction of elite houses is also problematic because of the cost and distance of procuring it, as it is usually not locally available. Holistic sustainability has to factor in the ecological implication of transporting materials, plus the carbon footprint of the air-travel that the ‘designer’ architect would spend on travelling to the site. Moreover, even if sustainable material is used for the building of a second or third home, then the very idea of sustainability is defeated because sustainability has to be about satisfying only the primary needs of living and not about luxury.

It is not that architects and clients should completely ignore bamboo as a sustainable building material. In fact, organization like KONBAC have resorted to the marketing of bamboo to elites because there is no culture of building in bamboo in our society. Today, bamboo should not be a material of choice but that of convenience and compulsion. What is then required is a system of making bamboo easily available by creating a network of bamboo farmers, as KONBAC claims to have done. It is also important that the government create bamboo forests in close proximity to urban areas so that its transport from the source to the site is sustainable. Building in bamboo should not be about style but that of real ecological and social responsibility.

(First published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 24 April, 2016)

How to Read Monuments

By VISHVESH KANDOLKAR

 

In her lecture titled ‘The Introduction to Ancient History’, delivered in August 2014, historian Romila Thapar – current D. D. Kosambi Chair at Goa University– suggested that there is a conceptual difference in imagining the past through historical monuments as compared to reading about them in historical texts. ‘Texts’ are abstract concepts, she explained, which must be ‘read’, their meaning understood, and only then can one locate their content in the historical context. In comparison to such abstraction, historical monuments have physical presence which can be seen, touched and felt. But one cannot simply visit a historical location and expect to be enlightened by the experience. An architectural appreciation of monuments requires meaningful engagement with their history and context. It is here that a well-researched guidebook can make a difference. One such book relevant to Goa is the recently released Portuguese Sea Forts: Goa, with Chaul, Korlai and Vasai (2015), by architectural historian Amita Kanekar.

 

In Goa, there seems to be a general disregard for, and the resultant mismanagement of, monuments, be they churches, temples, mosques or forts.There are many reasons for this, including the failure to see architecture as symbolic of specific colonial history, which is a point I shall return to. In the meantime, I’d like to suggest that what might help fill this lacuna is well-researched and accessible information about these monuments.

 

It is in this exact area that the Deccan Heritage Foundation, the publishers of Kanekar’s book, have identified their niche. They seem to bridge the gap between serious academic works and coffee table books, having commissioned established research scholars to produce popular guidebooks on the architectural heritage of the Deccan region. These books highlight the historical context of monuments while also being lavishly illustrated with photographs. This invariably helps in attracting readership, but also can help visitors to have a more informed engagement with the monuments.

 

Kanekar’s book is an effort to present a reliable historical narrative of the many Portuguese sea forts on the Arabian Sea coast of the Deccan, as well as the role of these structures in empire-building. This guidebook is not merely a pictorial one, but has a solid dose of history, both architectural and political, which helps the reader understand the role of these forts contextually.

 

In the introduction of the book, the author reminds us that “[t]he real Portuguese conquest was less of land than of sea-borne trade. Albuquerque is himself supposed to have reassured the Malabar ruler that the king of Portugal did not build forts to ‘take land’, but ‘to keep his goods and people secure’” along the coast (p.14). It is precisely because of the coastal nature of the Estado da Índia, that Goa’s cultural hybridity was further influenced. Kanekar points out that the Portuguese were never more than a small minority in the Estado enterprise. It becomes obvious, therefore, that most of those who manned the Estado ships, populated its towns, and fought in its armadas and militias, whether they were free or enslaved, might have been part-Portuguese, local Catholics, local non-Catholics, Deccanis, Bengalis or Asians and others of mixed backgrounds. This, Kanekar’s book posits, is still visible in the Luso-Arabic-East African-Asian traditions of the Roman Catholic communities living near forts of the erstwhile Estado today. Of the forts documented in the book, apart from those in Chaul, Korlai, and Vasai, the rest are located in Goa.

 

In terms of architectural appreciation, one of the important observations to be drawn from reading Kanekar’s book is that what sets the Portuguese sea forts of the Deccan apart is that they were designed with a special emphasis on geometry. While speaking at the launch of the book in December at the Goa Arts and Literary Festival, George Mitchell, another architectural historian and member of the Deccan Heritage Foundation, informed the audience that the other forts in the Deccan were different from the Portuguese ones, as they had high walls that skirted around the group of internal buildings, without much emphasis on geometric design. The Portuguese sea forts on the other hand, evolved with a special emphasis on geometry, explains Kanekar. Forts are essentially architecture of walls – articulated, elaborated and reinforced for the purpose of defence. However, the arrival of cannons in the fourteenth century resulted in a change in the design of forts, originating during the Italian Renaissance. Along with an emphasis on geometry, there was now a greater use of earth ramparts, ditches, and earth slopes. While appreciating the history of Portuguese forts that survive today in Goa and elsewhere, we must remember that they are distinctly European examples of offence and defence that were adapted for local conditions.

 

While the book is successful in describing the many forts it has featured in great detail, its limitation lies in the fact that it is a victim of its format as a guidebook. It is unable to give us the layered politics of forts in history, nor how these monuments (and other Portuguese period architectural heritage) are perceived by Goans in contemporary times. Take for example the way in which temples from colonial times have been completely modified or rebuilt as part of revisionist efforts to bring Goa in line with a perceived sense of an ‘authentic’ Hindu-Indian past. Where deliberate disregard allows for the erasure of history and its architectural markers, the vacuum is too readily filled with fabrications. Nevertheless, books like Kanekar’s are useful in underscoring the past in the face of dereliction.

 

(First published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 3 January, 2016)

Car-Free City!

By VISHVESH KANDOLKAR

Indisciplined parking and a substantial increase in the numbers and sizes of cars have resulted in the choking of streets in most Goan cities. The result of which is that there is hardly any room for pedestrians. In Panjim, pedestrians have been further strained by the new plan for one-way vehicular movement, which has led to an increase in vehicular speeds, making it dangerous for pedestrians to cross roads. In ideal cities the pedestrians are supposed to rule the road, but in our cities they are forced to risk life and limb every time they step on the street.

At a public consultation held by the City Corporation of Panjim (CCP) on 27 November 2015, to receive public feedback on Smart City proposals, Commissioner Sanjith Rodrigues recounted the problems the authorities face while implementing parking rules, despite employing contractors to clamp vehicles which flaunt these rules. An example he cited was of the no-parking area in front of the Caculo Mall in Panjim; some vehicle owners would apparently park their vehicles right in front of the mall, challenge the authorities to clamp them, proceed to have a meal inside the mall and, on their return, not only pay the fine but also offer an extra amount as a tip, and then drive off with glee. This vile kind of display of entitlement seems widespread in Goa nowadays.

Financial deterrents through fines are usually not adequate to discourage people from abusing the law (since the biggest law-breakers are usually the wealthy and powerful in any case!). But the efficient clamping by the contractor did help in bringing about some limited form of traffic discipline within the city. This, however, did not last long as the Panjim Councillors decided, a few months back, to dispense with the services of the said contractor (O Heraldo: 13 Aug. 2015). The city representatives probably succumbed to the pressure applied by elite vehicle owners and high-end shopping patrons. As a result, unlawful parking, whether in front of Caculo mall or other parts of the city, continues unabated and engaged in by many more.

The elite car owners dislike being ‘policed’ by ‘ordinary’ clamping workers or police constables, even if they have the money for the fine. So, even when their cars were parked illegally, many vehicle owners would abuse these workers who were simply doing their job. This desire to flaunt one’s power and privilege by flouting the rules is a typical structural problem which emerges from the graded hierarchy of the caste system, where the privileged are always assumed to be right even when they are legally not.

The historic character of Goan towns is their compact built environment. Widening of streets to accommodate more cars is only going to destroy this unique character. Moreover, widening of roads to ease vehicular traffic is a vicious cycle: the wider the roads, the more the numbers of cars, leading to more traffic jams. Bangalore is an excellent example of a city which has lost its character because of rampant road widening and innumerable flyovers. Despite these technological interventions, however, the time taken to get from one place to another has not reduced; on the contrary the opposite has happened. To make matters worse Bangalore’s pedestrian life has been completely compromised.

Given this situation, rather than discussing how to make more space for individually owned cars, citizens must debate how to make the city free of them. In his article End of the car age: how cities are outgrowing the automobile (The Guardian: 28 Apr. 2015), Stephen Moss argues that cities around the world are coming to the same conclusion: they’d be better off with far fewer cars. In order to achieve this, the city needs to adopt a vision in which residents no longer rely on their cars but on efficient and respectfulpublic transport.

The citizens of Panjim, who are discussing how to make their city smart, need to make some tough decisions, without which the city will soon come to a grinding halt. There is an urgent need to expel the cars from the city and make way for efficient public transport, cyclists and pedestrians. One great example we can learn from is the case of Amsterdam. Journalist Renate van der Zee (The Guardian: 5May 2015) writes that although cyclists rule in the Dutch capital today, great pains had to be taken initially to accommodate them. Zee argues that it was because of the tough decisions taken in the 1970s that contemporary Amsterdam (or for that matter the whole of The Netherlands) is equipped with an elaborate network of cycle-paths and lanes, so safe and comfortable that even children and elderly people use bikes as the easiest mode of transport.

It is time for Panjimto go the Dutch way. World-over, more than the technological infrastructure installed by experts it is the actions of inspired citizens that make a city smart. It is only thanks to fierce activism, writes Renate, that Amsterdam has succeeded in becoming what it is, now: the bicycle capital of the world. The smart city, then, is really about wise citizens, who canvass for the right kind of smart systems.

(First published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 6 December, 2015)

“What is the City but the People?”

By VISHVESH KANDOLKAR

The quote above from the Shakespearean tragedy Coriolanus aptly sums the problem in envisioning the future of Panjim today. While hectic activity is afloat to garner ‘opinions’ of what needs to be done to make the capital a Smart City, one wonders if we have forgotten the meaning of ‘smart’ today, or for that matter what is meant by a ‘city’ itself.

The biggest problem of the ‘smart city movement,’ is that the promoters of such an approach tend to repackage the city in a generic global form without understanding the historical significance of the existing city (both the form and the people). The Smart City concept largely harps on using digital technologies to supposedly improve the quality and the performance of urban services. The issue is really which services? They normally mean roads, flyovers, parking, digital communication, etc, while what we in Panjim actually need are services like mass housing, wider pavements, barrier-free designs, shaded pedestrian pathways, reliable public transportation, and so forth.

Speaking at the event of a high level meeting on smart cities, organized by the European Union in Brussels in September 2014, architect and professor Rem Koolhas pointed that in the projection of the smart city concept, values of liberty, equality, and fraternity have been replaced by comfort, security, and sustainability. These values that the Smart City movement promotes are clearly of contemporary upwardly mobile and elite groups today. Reinforcing these values will have serious consequences for the poor who do not have access to ‘smart’ resources. As I have reflected in earlier columns, Goa is already facing the onslaught of the demands of elite groups that use Goa as a pleasure periphery and a getaway from the problems of India. It should not be that rather than addressing the livelihood issues of locals, the Smart City concept with its pro-elite values becomes just one more vehicle for appropriation of the city from the locals. In her article Is India’s 100 smart cities project a recipe for social apartheid? (The Guardian, 7 May 2015), Shruti Ravindran highlighted similar concerns. Ravindran questions whether the emergence of hi-tech prototype cities in India will override local laws and use surveillance to “keep out” the poor. One of the first designated smart cities in India is the Gujarat International Financial Tec-city (GIFT), in Gandhinagar. Ravindran notes that the beating heart of GIFT is its “command and control centre”, which keeps traffic moving smoothly and monitors every building through a network of CCTVs. She observes that in the country where more than 300 million people live without electricity, and twice as many don’t have access to toilets, GIFT city’s towers are like hyperthrophic castles in the sky.

The entrepreneurs of digital technologies have made the city their domain especially by referring these designated cities as ‘smart.’Often unnoticed is the fact that the metaphor of ‘smart’ in the concept of the smart city evokes the smart phone as a comparison for the development of the city. Such an approach is problematic, for it renders the city as a commodity, and a ‘generational’ one at that. This is how one thinks of technological developments, where preference is given to new generations of phones and computers, and the trashing of older generations.Rather than working with something, the existing object is rendered obsolete even before its time in favour of something shinier and newer.Following this logic, just because Panjim is designated as ‘smart’, are the rest of the cities in Goa condemned to being stupid?!

What is the need of the hour is the concept of ‘good city’. The good city is the ultimate memorial of our struggles and glories: where the pride of the past is set on display (Kostof:1991, p.16). The pride of Panjim as in other cities of Goa lies in the architecture of the city: in terms of the scale, the extrovert forms of the buildings, their unique architectural styles, and the sheltered spaces for pedestrians. We therefore must show extreme sensitivity in managing these assets and initiating pro-public and egalitarian infrastructural development. The city of cannot be designated as smart global city merely to push newer developments that do not pay respect to the historical context. Instead what we need is to build on Panjim’s past to make it even more open, accessible and friendly to its people.

(First published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 8 November, 2015)

The Hypocrisy of Goa’s Protesting Awardees

By JASON KEITH FERNANDES, DALE LUIS MENEZES, AMITA KANEKAR, VISHVESH KANDOLKAR, and KAUSTUBH NAIK

In the context of a number of Sahitya Akademi awardees across India returning their respective awards in protest against the growing intolerance in India, in Goa around fourteen Sahitya Akademi awardees together with Padmashri awardees Maria Aurora Couto and Amitav Ghosh came together and issued a joint statement on 15 October, 2015. One would be struck by the hypocrisy contained in their press note released were it not for the fact that their politics of intolerance is so blatantly displayed all over the same note.

In their statement these local notables condemn “the rising trend of intolerance in the country which threatens freedom of expression…[and] the age-old liberal and all-encompassing philosophical traditions of this country.” One would take this concern seriously were it not for the fact many of these notables have been complicit not only in acts of intolerance themselves, but also physical violence.

For some years now there have been demands from many quarters that Konkani literature written in the Roman script also be given governmental recognition. But Sahitya Akademi awardees like Pundalik Naik and N. Shivdas, who have presided over the Goa Konkani Academy, have not felt it necessary to take up this cause and ensure that a Konkani tradition with a longer history than that in the Nagari script one is recognised. On the contrary, all of these protesting SahityaAkademi awardees and Padmashri Couto have watched silently while Roman-scriptKonkani has been officially ignored and excluded from all kind of state recognition, including awards and grants.

In addition, these persons have maintained a studious silence while their associates, such as Uday Bhembre and Nagesh Karmali, have engaged in the most vicious hate speech against the Catholic community in the course of the Medium of Instruction controversy (that has raged from 2011), when Goan parents demanded the right to determine the manner in which their children are educated. Where was their concern for the alleged liberal traditions, and traditional bonhomie, of Goa then?

To make matters worse, these same notables watched silently when in 2005 Naguesh Karmali, a member of this verygroup of protestors, led a violent mob in destroying public and private property on the grounds that such property was encouraging Portuguese (read as Catholic) culture in Goa.Given that Goa has had a long and historical relationship with Portugal, doesn’t the violent smashing of manifestations of this relationship amount to an act of the very same rabid communalism that these worthies profess to protest against?

In light of these inconsistencies, and the equally amusing announcement that they will hold on to their awards until the meeting of the executive committee of the Sahitya Akademi, it appears that these awardees seem more interested on jumping onto the bandwagon of political trendiness, than for any desire to stand against the growing intolerance in the country, and indeed, Goa itself.

We would like to stress that while it is true that the government of Mr. Modi has definitely presided over a rise in intolerance in the country, the roots of this intolerance lie deeper in the country’s history. As we have already pointed out, a number, if not all, of these Goan awardees are complicit in this intolerance. Their complicity is further evident in the manner in which they phrase their protest within the language of Hindutva. Why, for example, are the recent acts compared to ‘talibanism’, instead of calling them Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism? Talibanism is a phenomenon situated outside the country, when Hindutva is the problem actually at hand, given that Kalbargi, Pansare and Dabholkar lost their lives as a result of their opposition to this ideology. Indeed, Hindu nationalism has been a problem since before Indian independence. In referencing the Taliban, these awardees continue the refusal to recognize Hindu nationalism as the single greatest cause of concern in this country since 1947.

(First published in DNAIndia (Web) on 23 October, 2015)

In conclusion, we would be more convinced of the genuine concerns of these state awardees from Goa if we heard them also protest the exclusion of Konkani in the Roman script from legislative recognition, also the violent condemnation of the Goans who are simply asking for English as a state-supported medium of instruction for their children, and also the lack of implementation of constitutional guarantees for education and jobs to historically discriminated-against Goan communities. Such protests would go further in establishing norms for the respect of fundamental rights, and the establishment of law and order in our state and country.

‘CASI-NO’: Graffiti as Public Art

By VISHVESH KANDOLKAR

The word “CASI-NO” is painted on a wall next to the Panjim-Betim ferry bus-stop in the capital. This is not the only location where the graffiti exists. The choice of the ferry wall in the city seems to be an excellent location for the purpose of any protest art. But considering the context, it is surprising that this stenciled piece of art continues to sit right under the nose of the giant casinos which it is opposing. This piece of graffiti is an example of public art and more such works are needed to reclaim the public space from the unabashed domination and bombardment of consumerist commercial hoardings and signage.

casi_No

Graffiti is usually words and/or drawings, painted on the walls of public spaces. In his informative master’s thesis on communication and design, Advertising, Propaganda and Graffiti Art (2006), Alex Kataras argues that contemporary graffiti art is the by-product of a society inundated with commercial advertisements. He explains that this art often borrows from the aesthetics of signage and the jargon of advertising campaigns. After all, he claims, just as in current advertising, contemporary graffiti art also relies on its ability to awaken the viewer’s curiosity. Kataras rightly argues that the current advertisements have moved on to the aesthetisation of commodities and consequently a world in which the promise made by the seller ­ of love, eternal youth, or fairer skin – turns people into neurotic obsessive-compulsive consumers, with a penchant for instant gratification and a five-second attention span.

We in Goa have largely been resigned to blindly swallowing the propaganda of such commercial and political advertising, which include countless large, gaudy, repetitive, attention-seeking hoardings and signage. However, in similar contexts in Brazil and Argentina, graffiti artists have been able to reclaim some of the city space through captivating public art. According to graphic designer Tristan Manco, one of the main missions of the graffiti artists is to reclaim the city space, either as a reaction to the consumerist advertising, or to make a personal mark on the environment. After all, graffiti art has always been the voice of the underdog, as stencils, tags or simple slogans.

The CASI-NO graffiti, although a relatively small work of art, is very intelligent in its design. It mimics traffic signage, and is especially similar to ‘No Parking’ emblems. By this reference it echoes a larger public sentiment that casino ships are not to be ‘parked’ (docked) in the river, while simultaneously opposing casino culture itself. Graffiti like CASI-NO are based on guerrilla-style action; done quickly and anomalously. This very anonymity is indicative of the surreptitiousness needed in a repressive political economy.

Although there are artists in Goa who express their social concerns through their art work, these mainly remain restricted to the art-galleries with their negligible footfall. Some artists have, however, made their art public in such virtual fora as Facebook. One such artist whose work I enjoy is Angela Ferrao. Her art communicates social and political concerns which, at times, words fail to express. She has worked on many issues concerning contemporary Goa, such as citizenship, mining, casinos, caste, and language, to name a few. But she is one of a kind. While city walls and hoarding spaces are sold to the corporate world of advertisement, the Goan audiences, especially those who do not have access to the internet, remain deprived of witty social art available on virtual fora. It is sad that Goa finds more expressive space for protest art on the net rather than on the ground. One wonders whether this is because art culture is generally restricted in Goa.

Not that graffiti is always used as a mark of protest. Recently, one Mexican town, Palmitas, was in the news because the government sponsored young local graffiti artists to paint the entire town, without interfering into the theme of their work. With the help of local participants, the artist group named Germen Crew changed the face of the town creating for it a unique global identity.

Some would argue that Mario Miranda’s work as promoted in public places, such as in Panjim market, could pass as public art. As much as I enjoy Mario’s work, I think the popularity of his work has reduced perceptions in Goa of what art is supposed to look like and do. Because Mario’s work is so ubiquitous, it has taken the place of what we think of as public art, especially because it is so commercial. Also, public art does not emerge from official endorsement of it, especially when it is used for touristic consumption as emblematic to a particular saleable idea of Goa. Moreover any promotion of the dominant ideology, be it political or commercial, also cannot be held as public art. We therefore remain in the debt of the artist/s who painted the CASI-NO graffiti I’ve been discussing, because it claims the public space with boldness and imagination.

(First published in The Goan Everyday, dt: 11 October, 2015)