A web across three continents

Goan artist Vamona Ananta Sinai Navelcar was born in the small coastal village of Pormburpa in north Goa on May 5, 1929. Despite his birth in this small place, his career spanned seven decades and three continents. Despite this heritage, Navelcar is little known in his native land.

For many contemporary Goan artists of Navelcar, such as the modernists Ângela Trindade (1909-1980), VS Gaitonde (1924-2001) and FN Souza (1924-2002), their contributions to art were only brought to the fore. public knowledge only posthumously. . Even the recent disappearance of Laxman Pai (1926-2021) shows that Goa artists live in Goa in obscurity, their contributions underestimated as living testimonies of Goa’s legacy.

What sets Navelcar apart from his esteemed contemporaries is that his canvas has served as a chronicle of key moments in the history of Goa, Portugal and Mozambique. Known as an artist from three continents, Navelcar’s works – even in the last years of his life – bear witness to how the time he spent in these disparate yet colonial lands influenced his aesthetic. Navelcar saw himself as a product of these three lands, but his art itself was born out of displacement. And yet, this is all the more reason to recognize the art of Navelcar as uniquely Goa, for the circumstances that caused its dislocations are also history that made Goa the place it is today. hui.

Vamona Navelcar sketches her Muse, the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. Credit: R Benedito Ferrão, 2017)

The story of how Navelcar received his formal art education in Lisbon is legendary. As a young man in Portuguese Goa in the 1950s, Navelcar received a scholarship from António de Oliveira Salazar himself, who was then Prime Minister of Portugal. Reluctant to leave his native country, Navelcar nevertheless made the trip to Lisbon where he excelled in his studies. But these were the years of decolonization, and as Goa moved between Portugal and India, Navelcar found himself unwittingly embroiled in the political instability of the time.

In a 2017 interview with the late novelist Margaret Mascarenhas, Navelcar recalled for her how the Indian takeover of Goa in 1961, which ended 451 years of Portuguese occupation, earned her “blacklist” status. . Art historian Savia Viegas, who also interviewed Navelcar about the episode in 2017, clarifies that

“Another Goan named António Fonseca… asks[ed] this [he] sign … [a] dec. document[ying] Jawaharlal Nehru as aggressor and Goans as victims of his tyranny. Navelcar ignored any involvement, claiming he was apolitical … ‘Pintorist of Hanv ‘ (I am a painter). ”

While Navelcar claimed political apathy (in Konkani with Portuguese accents), preferring to align himself with the field of his talent, the patronage under which the artist came to his education and, consequently, the repeated troubles in the various continents he called home, suggest that the artist’s life (and art) were never separated from politics.

Mother and Child (1963), Vamona Navelcar.

The politically motivated blacklist did such damage to Navelcar in Portugal that he was forced to seek employment on another continent. Feeling that he had no other choice, the artist went to Mozambique (still a Portuguese colony at the time) to teach. But this country, too, quickly found itself on the brink of decolonization in the 1970s. Despite various incidents of discrimination, Portuguese Mozambique became a adopted country, a place the artist affectionately called home.

Secretly, Navelcar lent his artistic talents to pro-African anti-colonial efforts. In response to requests for art to accompany the posters protesting against colonial rule, Navelcar nodded and was careful to avoid detection by Portuguese authorities, as Anne Ketteringham documents in the biography. Vamona Navelcar: an artist from three continents (2013).

Ironically, it was not until after Mozambique’s independence in 1974 that Navelcar found itself in political trouble. An ordinary man touched by the weight of historical transformation, Navelcar once again became entangled in political machinations; only this time he couldn’t leave. On the contrary, he was imprisoned with his students in an isolated camp in the Imala desert for three months on a false accusation.

Mother and Child (1978), Vamona Navelcar.

There could have been a myriad of reasons Navelcar found itself in conflict with the postcolonial administration. In his conversation with Mascarenhas, Navelcar referred to the incident which he said could have landed him and his students in a concentration camp in 1975:

“[T]he Grade 12 students of the Lycée had a party and invited their teachers. I had a drink and danced with two white students. … A few days later, I started packing my things to leave Mozambique for good. But suddenly one of my colleagues met me and told me that everyone who had attended the student night was required at the police station … [There,] the students were crying and [their] the parents were in despair. It seemed that because alcohol had been consumed at the party, everyone present would be arrested. ”

The lack of clarity on why Navelcar and his students were arrested and sent to a forced labor camp is not an aberration in the way the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique or FRELIMO handled the transition to postcolonialism . Mozambican political history scholar Victor Igreja deciphers that although the new government has sought to “[eradicate] suspected enemies of society and [impose] a revolutionary national consciousness …[,] sometimes violence was committed aimlessly, which created a serious moral enigma “between power and justice.

Upon his release, the heartbroken artist decided to leave Mozambique. His destination was once again Portugal. The artist has reached the end of his journey, but not his suitcase. There were over a thousand works of art that were never to be salvaged. His cachet lost, Navelcar struggled to survive as an artist in Portugal, having come at a time when the country was still recovering from the Carnation Revolution of 1974.

It was then that the artist decided it was best to return to his native Goa. However, the Goa he returned to in the 1980s, after spending his most productive years in other places, was not familiar with this artist’s work.

The Last Supper (2009), Vamona Navelcar.

We must recognize the profound irony of the notion of “return” in Navelcar’s art, given the recurring exilic experiences he has undergone on multiple occasions and places. Navelcar’s practice engaged ideas of return, movement, loss of home, and displacement, as influenced by personal circumstances and historical forces.

Navelcar has lived and worked in three continental locations, which makes it important to think of the artist and his life’s work in the context of global historical terrain. It is a story that others of his generation share as they travel through the Portuguese-speaking world while remaining connected to Goa; simultaneously, Goa itself has received the cultural influences from these places, making it the distinctive place that it is.

Efforts to give the nonagenarian artist his due in his native land, in the hope of securing his legacy during his lifetime, had been in vain. Integrated into India since 1961, Goa could not situate this artist from three continents in a history of nationalist art. Especially being a postcolonial nationalism born out of British colonialism, it had no place for an artist whose trajectory included the Portuguese-speaking world – its metropolis and its colonies in the Indian Ocean.

Exodus (2017), Vamona Navelcar.

At the same time as Navelcar’s story is Asian, European and African, she is distinctly Goan. The art of Navelcar not only makes visible a Goa connected to other points of the globe, but a Goa which contains many worlds. With the death of Navelcar on October 18, a whole legacy seems on the verge of disappearing and yet his paintings are a testimony of this legacy, an act of resistance.

Through them, Navelcar will continue to teach viewers about the global complexities of his native country. But only if his art receives the real recognition it deserves.

With excerpts from Goa / Portugal / Mozambique: the many lives of Vamona Navelcar (Foundationção Oriente, 2017), edited by R. Benedito Ferrão. Thanks to the Navelcar family for permission to reproduce the art seen here.

R Benedito Ferrão is Assistant Professor of English and American Studies of Asia and the Pacific Islands in William and Mary, Virginia, USA.

Vishvesh Prabhakar Kandolkar is Associate Professor of Architecture at the Goa College of Architecture.

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