Published on 31/08/2018
Wow! What a roller coaster ride it has been.
The first two weeks were a breeze, Incredibly fun and refreshing! I met some new and interesting people, all from different places and backgrounds. And were all based in the town of Messejana for these past few weeks. It's a fun little town with no traffic, no big supermarkets and only two restaurants. At first, it was a little over/ underwhelming. I felt somewhat alienated at first, because the city life subconsciously makes us addicted to the noise, unnecessary luxuries, over consumption of food, information and a tonne of stuff that we don’t need. So, my brain took a few days to adjust to this new environment.
It has been a treat for my senses to live this simply and I certainly felt healthier and happier. My brain felt less exerted and therefore I felt more creative and productive. Meeting new people has been exciting too. There were artists from America, Italy and Iceland. So, it was a nice little group of about 5 of us for the first two weeks. Then some left and new ones joined in.
There was a community pool where we hung out some evenings. Portugal and the rest of Europe was going through a crazy heat wave for about 2 weeks. So, a dip in the pool helped a lot. We would goof around and play silly pool games. Undoubtedly, one of the best memories of the residency.
Once the first phase of the residency, which included research and interaction with the local community was over, I slowly found myself sliding into the second phase almost naturally and effortlessly. Where I just wanted to put the results of my observation together.
The project brief was to celebrate and put spotlight on the people who have helped build this small but very united and strong community. People who have contributed in some way, either in the field of art, literature or social service. I was thrilled to learn that some of the strongest characters in this town are women. Not only that, it is also one of the very few places in the modern world that is run by women.
So, I sat with, what I called the ‘local heroes’ and started life drawing. I tried my best to communicate with them (thanks to google translator app) as almost none of them spoke in English. These one to one sessions helped me really see them as people so that I could present them in a manner that was refreshing to the locals who saw them differently than may be I did. I tried to bring a fresh and a new perspective on these people who have contributed to the local culture purely out of love and devotion. It was a pleasure as well as inspiring for me to be able connect with such selfless and grounded human beings.
In the later phase of the residency, I took this inspiration and my personal observations and started putting them together. I decided to create expressive portraits of each individual with a short bio engraved at the back of a wooden panel. The shape and style of these wood panels were inspired by my time in Lisbon. But I gave it my personal touch with the use of bold and bright colours. After spending some time with these individuals, I could intuitively associate certain colours with each one of them.
One of the paintings was of a couple rather than the individual person. Hildeberta, who ran and managed the local museum refused to be painted alone. She said, her husband who looked after the garden and performed various other duties at the museum has to be painted alongside her. She said, “we’re a team and we should be presented like that.” Now, that really meant something to me and there was no way I was going to go against that. I had to figure out a way to accommodate both of them. Couples like that are inspiring in their own way.
I spent about two weeks painting and engraving 5 wood panels. The painting was the fun part but the engraving almost ruined everything more than just once. Just dealing with the facilities and trying to get it done in a limited amount of time I had was more testing than I imagined. Things went wrong more than just a few times and I had to stay calm and patient through it all even though I was going through a thousand emotions.
You learn a lot about yourself in situations where you don’t have all the power and control. But, eventually through resilience, perseverance and with the help of some very nice people, I made it happen. The show night was a huge success and in the end I was proud of what I was able to achieve with very limited time and limited resources. I even opened the show with a speech in Portuguese! The locals loved the show and thought that it was something very new and refreshing. Some were jealous that I didn’t paint them but with the time I had, I could only paint a selected few.
I believe that the show was a success because I truly believed in the idea behind it. The intention was pure and simple. I wanted to put spotlight on the right people. Too many people who have hardly made any real contribution are getting the spotlight. Too many selfish, arrogant and ignorant people are getting the platform they do not deserve. For once, I wanted to celebrate the right people, people who genuinely contribute in keeping their community together through their selfless dedication and consistent work.
And that is why I decided to name this project ‘Pillars of Messejana.’