Goa comes with its idyllic associations of soaking in the sun amongst palm trees and boozy nights that continue till dawn; both equally appealing in their own way depending on who you ask. But when Laila Vaziralli moved to Goa a year and a half ago to embrace its easy-paced life, something seemed amiss after a couple of months. An artist herself, Vaziralli couldn’t find a space in the city to showcase her work. “Goa has a culture of art galleries and away from that is a niche groups of artists that do highly conceptual work. I wasn’t comfortable with either of these spaces,” says Vaziralli who is also the figure behind projects like Kitsch Mandi and Junta, both of which saw her working closely with a network of artists across India. So she did the next best thing; opened her own alternative art space — The Village Studio, the first of its kind in Goa.
Located in the lush, green neighbourhood of Parra in North Goa, it is only a short distance from Anjuna and Calangute’s beaches. The three-month-old venue is a sprawling indoor-outdoor setting of almost 3000 square feet. However, it is the multi-purpose studio and the picturesque backyard (which has a pond amidst growing bamboo) that becomes the space for artistic exploration and performance. From live music performances, plays, workshops for both children and adults and hosting art exhibitions, Village Studio like the other alternative art spaces that have recently cropped up in the country can transform according to the need of the hour.
For Vaziralli though, these aren’t just events of alternative entertainment. “At Village Studio I try to curate experiences where there is a sharing of knowledge. This isn’t just a space for artists to showcase their work but a space where skills can be taught and learnt,” she says, having invited artists to host a variety of workshops at the studio right from moulding clay animals (for adults!), experiencing sound energy therapy to trying out yoga hip-hop. The other sensibility that forms Vaziralli’s curatorial vision is the ‘involvement with local communities’. One of the events that she truly looked forward to in December was ‘Forest Stories’ in collaboration with BuDa Folklore. This will see members from the Halakki Vokkaliga tribe of Uttara Kannada share their ancient tradition — ‘making a meal together is the performance, eating together is the purpose of the story.’ As opposed to conventional venues where art is experienced at a distance, alternative spaces like the Village Studio steer away from such practices. The unconventional ways in which they engage with art becomes a way for an artist and the audience to form an intimate relationship; which is becoming an integral purpose of art in the new world. But is Goa ready for such a commitment?
“All the artists that come to the studio are Goan,” said Vaziralli. “They showcase their work around the cities in India but their art wasn’t being shared with the Goan community only because of a lack of space—until now.” Having had six years of experience in curating artistic experiences in cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore she is still figuring out the sensibilities of her Goan audience. “There are days that I have too many bookings and days that nobody shows up,” she says. “Though what I have learnt in this short span of time is that in Goa, people have more time. They’ll attend full day workshops and even hang around for conversation much after the event.” Vaziralli attributes this to the fact that most people in the city are either there for a break from the city or, like her, are embracing an alternative slow-paced lifestyle.
While running a place that sees art come alive might seem like a never-ending exciting venture, it comes with its own set of challenges. The toughest being making it a monetarily lucrative business for which Vaziralli works multiple roles. Apart from curating events she also runs a cafe at the studio where she herself prepares an all-day breakfast of local Goan specialities as well as pancakes, smoothies, juices and cakes. Up the stairs from the café are two rooms, (tastefully painted!) which can be rented out on Airbnb. “The idea is if artists are visiting from out of town and want to showcase their work at the studio, you can also choose to stay here,” says Vaziralli. Without any government backing or subsidies, Vaziralli like many others who run creative spaces in the country, does so with her own savings until it hopefully becomes a sustainable business model.
One of the most distinct appeals of alternative art spaces is their ability to constantly innovate; keeping things edgy time after time. But surely for Vaziralli who runs Village Studio almost single-handedly, this can soon become a trying task. So what keeps her passion fuelled for engaging others with the arts? “A couple of days ago we had our Emerging Art Show; the first of its kind in Goa where artists can come and display their work in an informal setting. There was an eight-year-old boy who came and showed us some incredible work he had done. I was just so thrilled that the studio had given him an opportunity to do so. Such things that happen almost everyday keeps me inspired,” says Vaziralli.
If one were to think of art at its idealistic best; accessibility and and inclusivity should be at its frontiers. Luckily for Goa, the Village Studio is doing just that.
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