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Tale of disparate lives

An artist with three mothers


PAINTER'S PARADISE: Navelcar with writer Anne Ketteringham in his studio

Vamona Navelcar may be from Goa but the influences of Africa and Portugal shine through his work.

When two disparate lives come together it is to tell a story. The one of a taciturn artist living in the riverside village of Pomburpa, Goa, and the other of a retired aeronautical engineer and avid wildlife photographer who divides her time between France and Goa. Their divergent paths pulled together by an act of fate.

Anne Ketteringham who was working on a book of birds of India met one of India's most prolific yet misunderstood artists, Vamona Navelcar. The encounter led her to shelving her book on birds for another whose time had come. The result is a biography titled Vamona Navelcar, An Artist Of Three Continents. For Navelcar, it is a vindication of his search for truth and acceptance in a society that snubbed him. "There is a pattern to put me into oblivion, into darkness in this society, " says the 82-year-old artist. "They have succeeded to a great extent. My salutation to them and now my biography will put me into the limelight and I can prove that truth prevails. "

The tenuous stories and anecdotes of Navelcar's challenging yet intrepid life have until now remained fragmented, scattered over three continents. Piecing together the puzzle took Ketteringham on a journey from his attic in Pomburpa to art galleries, institutions and homes of art collectors and friends in Portugal, Mozambique and Goa. As she delved into his kaleidoscopic past, she discerned parallel tales unfolding on his canvas. Navelcar was the first Goan to study at the prestigious Escola Superior de Belas Artes in Lisbon, Portugal. His graduation work of 1962, a thesis titled A Rotina shows a group of four women in various poses of relaxation enjoying a moment of leisure as they put on their make-up before going to work in the fields. The fragile painting was languishing in his attic until the art collector Anthony Athaide rediscovered it. On the back of the age-worn canvas was another painting of Christ done in 1982, the year Navelcar returned to Goa from Portugal. "The discovery brought back many memories, " says Ketteringham. "Anthony had not known how low the artist had fallen and it was a very emotional experience for both men. The work is now part of Anthony's art collection. "

Similarly, a signed painting to Navelcar from his friend, the famous African artist and poet Malangatana, was dug out from his attic;together with numerous other works, they offer glimpses of his years in three continents. "Don't call me a Goan artist. I am an artist from Goa, " he says attributing the vivid evidence of Africa in his art to his formative artist years in Mozambique. Athaide too, considers Navelcar an African artist in Goa. "Vamona has three mothers. He was born in Goa. He was reborn as an artist in Portugal and evolved as an artist in Mozambique, " explains Ketteringham.

That a number should feature so strongly in his life is not surprising considering his deep interest in geometry and math, subjects he taught in Mozambique and which still excite him today. His philosophy is an amalgamation of Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism - a trinity of ideologies that evidently permeate his art. "As the days roll on, I think and feel that my works are soaked in spirituality. God has given me heavy wings that is art, disproportional to my fragile body. I did take by fate or negligence these benefits. "

He experiments with different mediums - acrylic, oil, watercolour, and ceramics - but it is in his preferred medium of pencil-and-ink that his power as an artist shines through.

At the sparsely furnished family home in Pomburpa that the bachelor artist shares with his younger brother's family, he was busy at work on a series of paintings that personify his concern for women in India. The painting of Goddess Kali has a deep resonance with the violence that women face. It will be one of Navelcar's first series of paintings in which he explores the theme, examining a fury that exploded within him when he read about the Delhi rape incident late last year. The painting is a flourish of deep colours, thickly layered and depicts a fiery Kali lashing out at the barbaric acts of men deliberately violating the feminine. Despite his barely audible voice and quiet demeanour, Navelkar is unafraid to speak his mind. While Ketteringham fondly refers to him as 'the gentle giant of the arts', Navelcar sees himself as a man and an artist who, in his own words asserts, "I am a Buddha on the outside and a Fujiyama inside. "

Revisiting his past has re-opened doors to old friends and acquaintances from Portugal, including his students from Mozambique. Their comments, deep appreciation and fond memories of the gentle, caring and charismatic artist appear live on the Facebook page titled Vamona Ananta Sinai Navelcar that Ketteringham started on his behalf since he prefers letter writing to online postings.

Ketteringham's book will be launched at Gallery Gitanjali, Panjim, at the hands of children. "It will be my message of art going to future generations, " says a quietly delighted Navelcar. An exhibition of about 30 drawings and paintings of Navelcar's art, spanning different decades, will be on show throughout the week. It will be a retrospective of the artist whose name appears in the Dictionary of 20th Century Portuguese artists and the Encycloepedia dos Artistas de Portugal.

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