F N Souza's grandson, Solomon, is in Goa and painting the town red

Topics Goa | Paintings

Solomon Souza at work on a mural of Maestro António Fortunato de Figueiredo, founder of the Goa Symphony Orchestra. Photo: Vivek Menezes
Mary D’Souza rises, two storeys tall, out of a welter of blue-green waves and tendrils, a brown Venus emerging from the sea. Her head is framed in a golden halo, while silver and bronze suns shine over her shoulders. Her hair is ruffled, the effect of the wind rushing through it as she speeds around the track. She wears the black shorts and white T-shirt of a 1950s runner, “GOA” emblazoned across the torso. 

D’Souza won a gold in the 4x100m relay at the 1954 Manila Asian Games to go with the silver in the same event and the bronze in the 200m that she had won in 1951, at the inaugural Asiad in New Delhi. She was also India’s first double international, representing the country in hockey as well. In 1956, when she was at the height of her powers — she broke the Asian record in both 100m and 200m that year — India found it didn’t have the funds to send a women’s contingent to Melbourne, and a possible Olympic medal eluded her.

“Stories like this out of Goa are rarely heard,” says Vivek Menezes, writer, photographer and indefatigable promoter of Goan culture. He is curator of a segment called “Mundo Goa” in the 2019 edition of Serendipity Arts Festival in Panjim, which begins tomorrow. He is using the opportunity to bring stories like D’Souza’s into the light, through a street art project titled ICON. His collaborator in this initiative is Solomon Souza, grandson of Goa’s most famous artist son, F N Souza. Under Menezes’s guidance, Souza is executing a series of 20-odd murals depicting some of the state’s other illustrious children on the walls of houses, office buildings, and shops. 

So, on a house in Saligao, poet Eunice D’Souza dwells in a forest with an African grey parrot on her head and lines from one of her poems beside her, which read “Learn from an almond leaf / which flames as it falls”. At the Aldona Institute clubhouse, “India’s Louis Armstrong” Chic Chocolate croons into a microphone. On a wall in Taleigao, one of India’s greatest football goalkeepers, Brahmanand Sankwalkar, leaps to prevent the sun from entering his goal. In Panjim, artist Angela Fonseca, in his Gandhi topi, breaks out of the frame of an Islamic arch of the type you will find in several of his paintings, which bend the geographic boundaries of Christian iconography. 

Just around the corner from this mural of Fonseca, I watch as Souza iconises Mary D’Souza. It’s a jaw-dropping experience. He stands on a crane platform, whose movement he controls through a panel on the protective railing. In one hand, he holds a phone on which is a small black-and-white picture of his subject. In the other, he wields a spray can that he chooses from amongst a handful around his feet, each with a different shade of paint. With no grid laid out, and no outlines drawn, he flourishes his instrument like the sword of Zorro, splashing his art and his signature onto plaster that offers no resistance to his skill.

The mural of Mary D'Souza. Photo: Aniruddha Sen Gupta
“Solomon is a savant,” says Menezes to me, several times. “With him, one and one and one don’t make three. They add up to whatever he wants them to.” Menezes was friends with F N, the elder Souza, in the last years of the latter’s life, when they both lived in New York. “His artistic legacy, I feel, has not been sufficiently celebrated,” he says, “and much of what I do in the arts arena is with Souza in mind.” So when F N’s grandson Solomon “popped up on [his] radar some years ago”, he paid close attention. “It was with great fascination that I saw that Solomon was an impressive artist in his own right.” 

What particularly caught his eye was a series of murals Solomon (@SolomonSouza on Instagram) had done on the shutters of shops in the Mahaneh Yehuda market in Jerusalem, depicting personalities from Israeli history. “When Serendipity asked me to curate Mundo Goa,” Menezes continues, “Solomon was top of my list.” Inspired by the “shuk” (market) series, Menezes called Souza to ask if he would undertake a similar street art project in Goa, the land of his grandfather’s birth.

“I was very surprised when Vivek first contacted me through Facebook,” Souza says. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is awesome; something completely new’. But a lot of people say a lot of things. Then we spoke on the phone, and things started moving. It turned very real.”

Former Indian football captain Brahmanand Sankhwalkar stands in front of a mural of him in action. Photo: Vaishnavi Sankhwalkar
On a Facebook post at the time, he wrote, “It is a part of my roots which I have never had the opportunity to really dig into and nurture, a rich treasure trove of culture and heritage that I have left unopened for decades...” Once here — his first time in the land of his grandfather’s birth — he swiftly dove into that treasure trove, exploring its bright jewels and hidden gems. “I feel like I’ve been here forever,” he tells me.

We’re talking over a cup of coffee in a Panjim  restaurant, at the end of the strenuous day he has spent on Mary D’Souza’s portrait. He’s in a singlet and shorts, flecked with paint on his clothes and his body. He should be tired out of his skull, but he’s full of smiles and energy. He must be very fit, I suggest, and his age probably helps (he’s just 26). 

“I smoke a lot, drink and party, eat all sorts of junk,” he laughs. “The painting is my exercise.” The speed with which he creates his murals does ensure quite a workout: The Mary D’Souza artwork took him about six hours to complete, and he did not rest at all in that time.

Souza and Vivek Menezes and Solomon Souza (left) at a painting of Bollywood music great Anthony Gonsalves
His enthusiasm and youthful charm is catching. While he was painting, people in neighbouring offices watched fascinated, and passersby stopped and offered their views. Menezes, who arrived later in the day to watch him put finishing touches to the mural, was happy to impart information about the work. And when Souza finally descended from his lofty perch, some of those who had been watching him wanted to take selfies with him, and he obliged them. 

Daphne Pearl de Souza, Menezes’s assistant curator on Mundo Goa, sings Souza’s praises. “He’s a gem of a person,” she says. “Very humble and accommodating. No fuss. But he likes breaking rules and taking risks.” She has been arranging the locations for the murals, handling permissions and paperwork. “The public’s reaction has been very supportive and encouraging,” she says. “Getting permissions is always a challenge... You can’t always get a yes.” But there have been far more positive reactions than negative, and Goans by and large — especially in the villages where some local icons have been painted — have been excited at having their heroes and heroines recognised in this manner. 

Solomon sees one key parallel in Jerusalem, where he has lived for the past 11 years, and Goa. “They are both places that are very real,” he says. “Yes, they have their own issues and share of problems. But for me personally, Jerusalem has been empowering. It has made me who I am today.”

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel