This artist is documenting the history of Goa’s lost village | Condé Nast Traveller India | IndiaJune 8, 2021
Sahil Naik’s painting “How to save a monument from a dam” is a part of his current exhibition
“There is a saying in Konkani: ‘In order to save a story, you must narrate it to as many people as you can’,” says artist Sahil Naik. Over the last decade, Naik has been returning every summer to Curdi, a village in Goa’s Sanguem taluka that was submerged by the construction of Salaulim Dam in the 1980s. His new exhibition, “All is water, and to water we must return”, showing at Kolkata’s Experimenter, pays tribute to the lost village. “To remember is to resist erasure,” he says.
Stories are all that Curdi’s former residents have to keep the memory of their home alive. After the village was submerged, most Curdikars were rehabilitated to villages nearby or they settled in other parts of South Goa and Karnataka. But every April and May, when the receding water reveals the remnants of the village, Curdikars return with their families to relive a slice of their past.
Keeping the faith in Curdi
“Curdi has become well-known locally as the submerged village that resurfaces briefly every summer,” Naik says. “But Curdi is so much more than that.” The 29-year-old artist was born and raised in Kavlem, a small village on the outskirts of Ponda, less than a two-hour drive from Curdi. After graduating with a Masters in Sculpture from Baroda’s MS University, Naik has been exploring lesser-known and alternate histories in his work. Architectural sites are not inanimate, they are witnesses to changing times for Naik. Goa’s architectural history, with its mix of cultures and styles has always fascinated him, but he is most taken by the narratives and anecdotes surrounding these sites.
Naik has spent a decade documenting the stories he’s heard from Curdi’s people. They would show Naik around, telling him about the houses, playgrounds and schools that used to be there. “Some of them would clean the remains of their houses, offer flowers or just touch the walls and pray,” he says. “We are also talking about a very specific time, soon after Goa’s liberation from Portuguese rule. To put it into perspective, Curdi never saw electricity.” From these walks and conversations, he began piecing together a visual map of the village. There were no photos for reference, so he relied on their memories to make miniature sculptures.
A people’s archive
Naik’s current exhibition is a culmination of his observations and the villagers’ oral histories in the form of paintings and a kinetic sculpture. The sculpture—made of soil, stone and bark cast in fibreglass—shows the water around the land slowly rising and receding, submerging and then relinquishing the landscape. His paintings offer a glimpse into the assembling of Salaulim Dam and explore the relationship between the land and the water in the region.
One of his pieces is titled Saudade—a Portuguese word that refers to a deep, almost untranslatable sense of longing and nostalgia. To him, this word encapsulates the sentiments of the last residents of Curdi. He sees his work as a people’s archive, built not through facts and figures, but through the stories people tell and the songs they sing of their land. “For them, nature is a keeper of history, a thing of worship and nourishment,” Naik says. All of their songs are odes to the trees, the mangroves, the hills and even the waters that eventually submerged their homes. “They say: ‘here, water is loyal,’” he tells me. “It never washes away the land that holds it.”
Sahil Naik’s exhibition, “All is water, and to water we must return”, can be viewed at Experimenter, Ballygunge Place (Project’s Room) in Kolkata and online at the Experimenter Viewing Room until 30 June 2021.