Saturday, March 19, 2011
Unfolding of a Dream; When Art meets Activism
On 10th March 2011, Vagator Beach in Goa transformed itself into the scene of a silent battle, which has been going on for the last fifty years from different parts of the world; the fight of Tibetans for the freedom of their country from the clutches of one of the biggest nations in the world, China. Conceived an executed by the noted site specific installation artist, Subodh Kerkar, this was a project where art, activism and non-violent resistance took an aesthetic form through careful interventions of the artist on the site (Vagator Beach) and of the Buddhist monks (through their performance and chanting) and also of the Tibetan community (mostly migratory traders) living in Goa.
Titled ‘Unfolding of a Dream’ this site specific installation was conceived a year back when Subodh Kerkar visited the Buddhist monasteries in Sikkim. Influenced by the beauty and performative opulence of the Buddhist customs and also enchanted by the philosophical forced embodied in the fluttering of the saffron, white, yellow and red colored flags tied high over the posts and architectures where Tibetans live their life in exile in India, Subodh decided to work with these elements in one of his site specific works. Besides Subodh was moved by the flag of freedom, the Tibetan National Flag held closer to chest by each Tibetan citizen living in India.
Subodh says that it was not an easy thing for him to organize this project though in Goa and elsewhere his site specific installations are appreciated and displayed. According to him, when art is something with subtle political connotations it would pass off as an un-disturbing piece of art but when it has direct political connotations, it has to be mediated at different levels. On the political side, as an artist who has been negotiating with different government departments, public and private bodies in order to make Goa a hub of Indian site specific art, Subodh could pull off a few strings and could get permission for using the Vagator Beach as his site. And through the Tibetan Community leaders he contacted the 400 strong Tibetan people who sell jewelries, beads, clothes and food in Goa and also visited the Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Murgode in Karnatakam for inviting spiritual leaders to be a part of the project.
Tenth March is a very special day for the Tibetans. It was on this day in 1959 Tibetans under the leadership of Dalai Lama declared an uprising against the Chinese domination, which eventually led into the exile of Dalai Lama and his freedom loving people to India and many parts of the world. Subodh chose this day to ‘raise’ his installation, ‘Unfolding of a Dream’ with the help of the Tibetan community in Goa.
Thousands of flags are brought onto the beach where mostly the tourists come for sun bath. To their surprise these flags were tied to the poles and later driven down to the beach sand. Reminding the viewer of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty or Christo’s mountainside works, Subodh as a tribute to these masters, shaped these flag posts into an unfolding circle and the tail of it moving towards the entry point of the beach. And below each flag post a plastic water bottle was cut to form a lampshade so that the light could be directed towards wildly fluttering flag by the sea wind.
This project was a participatory project in all its truest sense. All four hundred Tibetans in Goa came together in batches to help the artist to create this installation. They made around four hundred mashals (torches) our small steel tumblers and sticks. On the evening of 10th March 2011, the Tibetan people, along with the local enthusiasts and tourists, led by Subodh Kerkar, Education minister of Goa, Tibetan monks from Karnataka in their ritual regale, walked from within the circle of flags, followed the trail of it with lit torches, chanting ‘om mani padme hum’ towards a makeshift stage created out of red carpets.
The dream of freedom was very much there in every one’s eyes. They walked in full vigor with their spiritual leader Dalai Lama showing them the way in their dreams. Subodh spoke about his experiences while working towards this project. He likened the Tibetan people in Goa, who run shops, with Sant Tukaram. “They sit still, never beckon you with the words of allurement. They don’t bargain with you. If you buy things from them, they bow to you while accepting the money. I am fascinated by them and I am proud to say that they are not Tibetans in India, they are Indians from Tibet. They are us,” Subodh Kerkar said on the occasion. The monks spoke to the Tibetan community and they reiterated their demand from freedom through non-violent means. Then they performed Cham Dance, a spiritual ritualistic dance.
Unfolding of a Dream remained at Vagator Beach for a week and it was removed on 17th March 2011.
Post script: I was there clicking pictures and soaking myself in the energy of Tibet. And I found this lady with her child walking towards their dream freedom.
That’s me at the Chapora Fort above Vagator beach.
That’s the noted photography artist, Alex Fernandes and myself at the fort.