ONE KNEW BERNIE as a committed student activist in our college days. Later, I encountered her new avatar as Dr. Bernadette Gomes, sociologist, whose work and potential has been rated high by the likes of the US-based (Marblehead, MA) anthropologist Dr Robert (Bob) S. Newman. More recently, I got to know her as someone whose writing really deserves to be published (but that’s taking time to happen).
After hearing her mention it for long, last week I got to know the artist in Bernie.
Her exhibition ‘Maadani — Under the Coconut Palms’ is to go up on display in Panjim’s Institute Menezes Braganza on October 29, 30 and 31 (9 am to 7 pm). It’s subtitled, “Growing up in Goa, rendered in paint by Bernadette Gomes”.
In fact, her paintings strike one as a two-dimensional, sociological statement in four-colours (to use a printing term). This, she says, is her childhood recollection. But it’s definitely not the self-obsessed perspective of middle-class and affluent Goa, made up largely of a nostalgic yearning of the past or the mirages and promises of the uncertain future.
Her work instead tells the story focussing on subaltern Goa (and that’s where the activist embers come alive). It remids us of the traditional occupations and lifestyles which are now under severe threat (as capitalism and consumerism overrun a semi-feudal society with unbridled speed and determination).
She describes her paintings thus:
Each of them is a personal experience brought to life. It’s the way in which Goa’s folk life has touched mine, shaping me as I grew up.
The paintings capture people’s practices; a way of life that’s fast disappearing. Like the gathering of dried leaves before the monsoon, to light kitchen fires. Like par-boiling paddy at night. Women bathing at the village stream…
Others peep into little known aspects of Goa’s varied peoples. Like the Meazghor of the pastoral Gouly tribe, a living room-cum-kitchen-cum-store room, made entirely of woven cane. The men dancing the Powo during Dussehra. Or just taking a break as they tend the goats.
Fun, frolic and solemnity is portrayed in the Sotryo festival of Cuncolim; the fire walkers at the zatra of Goddess Lairayee at Sirgao; the village church feast…
My favourite, a lively scene of salt-pan workers, that could come from coastal Pernem, or any one of the villages in Bardez and Tiswadi that once made Goa a salt-exporting centre par excellence (now this traditional sector is facing immense pressure).
The details are amazing and, sometimes, like a picture clicked by one of those modern, high-res digital cameras, almost better than life!
Her images include:
- Goa under one umbrella — the sotryo festival of Cuncolim, celebrated by Hindus and Christians alike.
- Goulys get going — the Powo dance, a unique Gouly Dussehra custom.
- No fear of fire — the Dhonds of Goddess Lairayee walk on burning embers.
- Leav-ing nothing behind — gathering dry leaves for the fire before the monsoon in the zabblo (traditional coir-net bags).
- Salt of the earth — salt pans were once Goa’s principal industry.
Not for nothing does Bernie mention that she’s from Santo Estevao “also the native village of (noted Goan artist who rendered Christian themes in Indian style) Agnelo da Fonseca.”
She recently took premature retirement from her job at the Government Colleges where Bernie lectured in Sociology. But maybe the loss of students in Cuncolim and Quepem could be the gain of the local art scene. Enriched not just with lively colours but a deep understanding of the rich lives of the poor Goan who now gets turned invisible and often falls beyond the radar of urban Goa.