Serendipity Arts Festival is one of the largest multi-disciplinary arts initiatives in the South Asian region, spanning the visual, performing, craft and culinary arts. Organised by the Serendipity Arts Festival (SAF), it takes place annually in Goa. This year, the fourth edition of the Serendipity Arts Festival will take place in Panaji from December 15-22. To know more about the immersive experience at the festival, STIR speaks to Smriti Rajgarhia, Director of the Serendipity Arts Foundation and get insights into the upcoming edition.
Sukanya Garg (SG): What is the conceptual focus/theme of this year’s festival?
Smriti Rajgarhia (SR): When Serendipity Arts Festival was first conceived, we took a principle decision to not give it a specific theme. Considering the diverse mandates of the Serendipity Arts Foundation, we wanted to work in a slightly different manner – we basically gave each curator and each discipline a set of mandates on the basis of which they came up with their own curatorial frameworks. It’s been interesting to observe that every year there is a sense of a thematic that often echoes the concerns of the contemporary moment. This year the idea of identity and home is a thematic that keeps surfacing in many projects which will be shown at the festival, but there are other themes as well, with each project responding to our complex social realities. As we piece the festival together, it almost feels more like narratives rather than a unified focus, which really brings together diverse curatorial frameworks and the cross-linkages are unmissable.
SG: How will this edition of the festival be different from the last one?
SR: I don’t think it’s so much about difference, but we want to believe that with each year the festival is evolving. On a more quantifiable note, we have a lot more commissioned projects, new venues, some ambitious spaces and more conversations - both formal and informal - programmed into the very structure of the festival. One of the foundation-led projects that we are very excited about is a symposium titled Of Other Places, which examines the role of arts in place-making. It is a two-day symposium, which explores case-studies from different countries.
SG: What will the artist selection process entail across the seven disciplines? How is it different for each discipline? What goes into the process of nurturing cross-disciplinary collaborations for the festival?
SR: Serendipity Arts Festival has a structure that consists of two curators per discipline. For 2019, our curatorial panel across seven disciplines comprises Rahaab Allana and Ravi Agarwal in photography; Pramod Kumar KG and Kristine Michael in crafts; Sudarshan Shetty and Dr. Jyotindra Jain in visual arts; Atul Kumar and Arundhati Nag in theatre; Aneesh Pradhan and Sneha Khanwalkar in music; Mayuri Upadhya and Leela Samson in dance; Rahul Akerkar and Prahlad Sukhtankar in culinary arts.
Each of the curators chose the content that supports their curatorial framework. For select projects this year we have used the open-call format, inviting entries from the public. Many of the curators select projects through research and some through direct portfolio reviews. It really depends on the framework of that specific curator. Each curator has an individual point of view, like we all do, and that governs the framework and hence, the selection of the artist.
In the past three years we have noticed a confluence of practices across disciplines. Collaborations are important for the growth of discourses on practice and to define the need for an aesthetic for the varied contexts. It’s always been our attempt to encourage projects that engage with cross-disciplinary collaborations, but in one sense the festival itself is an attempt to create a milieu for people to engage with interdisciplinary conversations.
SG: What has the international response been to the past few editions?
SR: I think it has been good, but you should ask them about a review on us.
SG: In this time, when art festivals, fairs and events are increasingly on the rise, how do you differentiate yourself from the rest, both nationally and internationally?
SR: There is an immediate need for many more art initiatives, especially in the region. No number can be enough because we need more initiatives in the form of biennales, fairs and festivals to create a robust arts ecosystem. For a diverse region like ours, there has to be a mix of various platforms to re-engage the audience back with the arts. Arts have the power to transform and engage with people, the city, the state and the region. Given the new contexts that we are living in, arts and culture need to move beyond the known formats, and newer forms of engagement need to be supported.
With each biennale and festival, the opportunities that can manifest for the artists and performers are endless – the more initiatives, the more collaborations, this has always been the core for Serendipity Arts Foundation. In the short span that we have been around, we have collaborated with many of the initiatives from the region and internationally, and co-hosted a pilot project with the British Council on the festivals of the future. I must say that this project was an eye opener, because it presented limitless possibilities of collaboration between festivals that could take us towards a new direction through mutual support. Hopefully this year at the festival, you will see collaborations that will be formed on-ground and with the festival hoping for a more robust future for the arts in the region. Since we have touched upon this, I would like to give a big shout out to everyone who organises these initiatives, all the teams and their relentless hard work, because it is extremely hard work, and without it, initiatives like this would not be possible.