Art + History ♒︎ Aristry @MOG

I hated the subject history back in school. I remember only one teacher among several who tried to teach us; her opening line didn’t help either. ” History is boring with the countless names and the dates, but it is an exam that has to be passed, so we have to get it done with.” And so it was studied like a bitter pill that had to be swallowed. Compare that to my biology teacher Dr. Leelamma Joseph (PhD), who taught her subject with much passion and eloquence, accompanied by colourful diagrams. We only had the blackboard and she always used coloured chalks. The vibrant diagrams she so effortlessly drew with the chalks and the animated explanations that accompanied the pictures made biology the most interesting subject back in school and I excelled.

An exhibit at the Museum of Goa (MOG)
An exhibit at the Museum of Goa (MOG)

I enjoy reading history now. History is not about remembering the names and the dates; they are stories of real people and when narrated well, they can be spellbinding. History is understanding how the past has resulted in the present and much of what we do today, our customs and practices date back to centuries. And the dates are mere timelines in the story and no extra effort is required to remember them !! And we met a storyteller at the Museum of Goa – Dr. Subodh Kerkar and when he started saying ” Indigo is the colour that seduced the world…..” I fell hook, line and sinker wanting to know how and why….and a story begins….!!

Dr. Subodh is a doctor by training who found his calling in art and he draws inspiration from history to create his art works. The Museum of Goa is his initiative. It’s not a museum housing antiques in an effort to explain history; on the contrary, it is an exhibition of contemporary art and the art works draw inspiration from Goa’s rich history. It’s a good place to satiate both the art enthusiasts and those who want to understand Goan history.

We first were shown a presentation about the artist Dr. Subodh Kerkar and how he started out. He talked about long walks with his father along the beaches in Goa and his father told him about two kinds of waves rushing to the shores. The small ones that wet the already wet sands and the occasional large waves that wet new sands. And the doctor hoped that someday, he too will be able to accomplish something new and wet new sands.

As a doctor, he has worked with the fisherfolk and hence the sea is a big source of inspiration for him. In the photograph below, the fishermen become the boat !! There are other fascinating photographs were the fishermen become the fish bone and so on.

Fishermen and the Sea by Dr Subodh Kerkar at MOG
Fishermen and the Sea by Dr Subodh Kerkar at MOG

Here are a few of his exhibits. Below is a exhibit dedicated by Dr. Subodh to Zheng He – antique Chinese ceramic spoons mounted on the wooden balance of a boat. 

I first read about Zheng He at the Science Museum in Hong Kong, where a very plausible model of his Treasure ship was exhibited, the link is A day of discovery and duck in Hong Kong 2018

Under the patronage of the Ming dynasty, Admiral Zheng He made several voyages to the ports along the Indian coast, esp the port of Calicut in Kerala. As per Dr Subodh, Zheng He’s Chinese junk boats were 127 m long while the Portuguese caravels were mere 20 m in length. In addition to the length, as per the details on the exhibit in the Hong Kong Science Museum, the junks had other unique features that made these ships superior to that of the Portuguese. The number of ships in his voyages vary in each written account from 25 to 250 to 317, but everyone agrees on the number of crew to be 28,000 strong !!

Chillies by Dr Subodh Kerkar at MOG, made of fibre glass, rubber tyres and cotton fabric
Chillies by Dr Subodh Kerkar at MOG, made of fibre glass, rubber tyres and cotton fabric

Indian food is singularly known around the world to be spicy and Indian cooking without chillies is unimaginable. So it was a shock to learn that the chillies arrived on the Indian coast on a Portuguese ship.

Dr Subodh mentions in his exhibit that there is no mention of chillies in the Vedas or the Upanishads, nor in Kautilya’s Arthashastra, written in the 2nd century BC, which mentions pepper and other spices, but not chillies. The Ain-e-Akbari, the biography of Akbar written in 1560 describes in detail around 50 dishes cooked in the emperor’s kitchen. Chillies were used in none. Curious…. ?😌

Today India is the world’s largest producer and consumer of chillies. We even export them to Mexico !!

We were fortunate to meet the man, Dr. Subodh Kerkar, he was working on what he said was his take on the famous Ashoka Pillar. He took the time to show us the Gandhi AR ( Augmented Reality) app, which shows 3D Gandhi sculptures in real world, on scanning the specially prepared markers. 

This was an initiative of the GoI Ministry of Science & Technology this year to commemorate the 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, born on October 2, 1869.

Drawing inspiration from the sea, below is another exhibit by Dr Subodh Kerkar titled Oysters on the Plate. He details how he bought the ceramic plates from an antique dealer and placed them in an iron cage on the ocean floor for 6 months; and the ocean covered them with oysters. In this way he says….the ocean has become my partner !!

The Anchor is another beautiful exhibit, an old anchor completely covered with oyster shells.

When we were posting the photographs of our Goa trip in our family WhatsApp group, one of my relatives started recalling is his days in Goa back in the 1970s. He mentioned Motorcycle taxis in Goa, the passenger rode on the pillion and it was a popular means of transport along the narrow roads of Goa and was used by women too. We saw a Motorcycle taxi stand when we were passing through South Goa, but we were in a speeding car and was too late to catch a picture.

And at MOG was saw a sculpture called The Motorcycle Pilot by Santosh Morajkar. Apparently Goa was the only place in India were motorcycles are used as “Taxis”. An affordable mode of transport and the motorcycle rider is referred to as ” Pilot”.  

There is more to this interesting story and a visit to the Museum of Goa is well worth.

The Motorcycle Pilot by Santosh Morajkar at MOG
The Motorcycle Pilot by Santosh Morajkar at MOG

There is so much more interesting artefacts on display and after a round of soaking up art and history we head to the souvenir shop and picked up a few memorabilia too. And then the Coffee shop.

The Coffee Shop at the Museum of Goa
The Coffee Shop at the Museum of Goa
The orange juice came with a bamboo straw
The orange juice came with a bamboo straw

A must see place, check it out on your next trip to Goa !!

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