What People Are Saying

Book Review ROMALINA (Goodbye Africa, Adeus Portugal, Namaste Goa!) by Vivek Menezes ( widely published photographer and writer. Co-founder/ co-curator of the Goa Arts + Literature Festival).

The upcoming issue of London Review of Books will be remembered for its landmark essay by Mahmood Mamdani, in which the highly regarded 76-year-old Indian-Ugandan academic – he was at Columbia University in New York and is now the Chancellor at Kampala International University – directly addresses some of the myths and blind spots that continue to prevail about the rollercoaster history of migrants from the subcontinent to colonial states in Africa. The Asian Question begins with the paradox he encountered during research amongst people like himself, who had been abruptly expelled from Uganda in November 1972.

“I made a point of asking most of the Ugandans I met to share their thoughts about the expulsion,” says Mamdani. “For most of them, it wasn’t the decision to expel the Asian population that was troubling, but the way the expulsion had been carried out: this was the beginning of wisdom for me. Ten years later, whether we met in Uganda or in Britain, I put the same question to friends, former neighbours and schoolmates of Asian heritage from the pre-1972 period. To my surprise, more than 90 per cent of them said they would not want to return to the years before Amin ordered them out: whatever they experienced at the time, they – like the ‘indigenous’ Ugandans I’d been questioning since 1980 – had nothing against the expulsion. Why did an overwhelming majority of current or former residents in Uganda, brown or black, feel this way?”

Mamdani explains: “At the heart of the problem were Uganda’s citizenship laws, drawn up when Britain relinquished its protectorate. A clause in the Independence Constitution of 1962 restricted citizenship by birth to those born of Ugandan parents, one of whose grandparents must also have been born in Uganda. My guess is that no more than 10 per cent of Ugandan Asians would have qualified for citizenship under this clause at the time of independence. Six years later, Britain added an ‘indigenous’ ingredient to its own citizenship laws, and another layer to the complexities facing Uganda’s Asians. As Ian Sanjay Patel argues in We’re Here because You Were There, the 1968 Commonwealth Immigrant Act ‘was the first immigration law specifically designed to target non-white British citizens not resident or born in Britain.”

This, then, is the nitty gritty of why so many Indians – including tens of thousands of Goans – bounced far from Africa in waves of exodus that are still reverberating. It wasn’t any fanciful “winds of change”. Instead, as Mamdani expounds in his 2020 Neither Settler nor Native: The Making and Unmaking of Permanent Minorities (Harvard University Press) “the political effect of colonialism was not limited to the loss of external independence, to the drawing of external borders that demarcated the colony from the outside. More importantly colonial governance drew borders inside the colony.” Thus, “two sets of citizenship laws, in Uganda and Britain, were a vice in which tens of thousands of Asians were squeezed. After 1968, no British passport-holding Asian in Uganda could obtain a work permit or trading licence in Uganda, or gain entry into the United Kingdom.”

Trapped in that way, the substantial majority of Indians in East Africa tried to decamp wherever they were accepted. The UK turned hostile – remember Enoch Powell’s noxious ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech – but some thousands (including Mamdani) did get refugee status there. Canada also took in thousands, and many others went to India. Others scattered widely, including one tiny cohort in Norway, which is how Thomas Pereira (born in Sarpsborg in 1973) became one of the first Indian-origin players in top-flight European football, including eight caps for his country. And it also explains why the first really great literary achievement to come out of the Goan-Indian-African experience was first published in Norwegian (Ivo de Figueiredo’s Em fremmed ved mit bord was launched in its excellent English translation as The Stranger at My Table at the Goa Arts + Literature Festival in Dona Paula in 2019).

Figueiredo puts it most pithily, about an inconvenient history that you will never glean from history books in the West, or Africa either: “The harsh truth was that now my family became redundant people, mere slag from the grinding wheel of history. They were a people with origins, history, but no territory of their own. The empires that had created them had gone and now they were left standing among the colonial ruins under the scorching sun.” He writes, “Goans seem in many ways to be one people no matter where in the world you meet them [but] there will always be a difference between those who went away, and those who stayed. For many families, this separation happened twice over. First in their departure from Goa, then, a generation later, in their departure from East Africa. In both cases those who stayed had to live under a new set of rules that threatened their culture and way of life.”

Clarice Vaz’s vivid, delightful new Romalina: Goodbye Africa, Adeus Portugal, Namaste Goa! is another in the steady trickle of memoirs and other kinds of writings by and about African Goans since The Stranger at My Table earned such acclaim. The nurse-turned-artist based in Saligao first drew attention for her intense, unique paintings – some are even made using syringes – that seem to erupt from deep psychic pain and healing. This is classic ‘art brut’ or ‘outsider art’ as outlined by Jean Dubuffet: “Those works created from solitude and from pure and authentic creative impulses – where the worries of competition, acclaim and social promotion do not interfere – are, because of these very facts, more precious than the productions of professionals. After a certain familiarity with these flourishings of an exalted feverishness, lived so fully and so intensely by their authors, we cannot avoid the feeling that in relation to these works, cultural art in its entirety appears to be the game of a futile society, a fallacious parade.”

Understanding this context is vital, because Romalina – in my view – is best classified as outsider literature, falling distinctly outside the standard conventions of the art, writing, and publishing worlds. It makes for unusual reading: by turns playful, polemical or poignant, and sometimes all those things at once. It’s a memoir, but also history, with an astonishing range of images. Especially fascinating is the chronological table, which has separate columns for what happened at the same time in Europe, Portugal, Goa, Clarice Vaz’s family, and the rest of the subcontinent. Starting from 1415 – the dawn of “the age of exploration” – and stretching right to 1987, it’s an appreciably heartfelt effort that is greatly enhanced by the writer/illustrator Bina Nayak’s lush interventions on virtually every page. There’s no other book like this, which is exactly as it should be.

Here’s how our Clarice begins her Acknowledgements (which are typically idiosyncratically the first thing in her book): “I am an artist who writes and in a moment during this pandemic, I began digging into the laterite stone quarries of a ‘Goan mine’ of a different kind. Trying to free myself of an old label refusing to get unstuck: the Africander-Goan. Each time I tried to rip it, it crumbled like tambdi mati in my hands. But I don’t give up easily, and after a struggle, I triumphantly succeeded in extracting a whole chunk. This boulder was precious for it contained my personal history and the experiences of every Africander-Goan before me.” In its physical form, that reshaped raw material is an exceptionally handsome. In its physical form, that chunk has been shaped into an exceptionally handsome and weighty volume that is well worth its (not at all inconsequential) price, but, happily, Romalina is also freely available for download at claricevaz.com.
CLARICE VAZ: A seeker’s journey

In her new series of paintings, Clarice Vaz continues her investigation of life’s deepest philosophies and the mysteries of existence. Her journey as an artist has been as much connected to intuitive explorations as the mastering of skills. A painter, activist, writer and multidisciplinary practitioner, she imbues her work with a sense of innate strength and visual harmony – and an experiential silence that rises above the chaos of mundane life. She responds to the external environment she finds herself in, as well as to internal experiences, and finds different ways to translate these into visual manifestations. Her work contains layers, figuratively and conceptually, and she invites viewers to probe deeper and extract their own answers.

Referring to the scriptures and the teachings of Christ, Clarice reaffirms her faith through the narratives she builds into her paintings. The imagery symbolizes a fine distillation of concepts, as in “Genesis”, the multilayered dark universe opening up to reveal the organic burst of life; or in “Inner Flame” that encapsulates the all-pervading omnipotent force of the Spirit through form and colour.
Frequently employing a language of abstraction, she encapsulates vast stories through swift portrayals in colour. Having developed a mastery over mixing hues both prior to and during application, she builds the canvas surface through rhythmic gestures of brush and tool, developing complex textures and grains.The techniques she uses also spring from a wide range of experiments that connect to her past profession as a nurse. In a work like “The Scantuary”, meticulously constructed textures build dynamic movement into the central shape that radiates outward; while in “Canticle of Light” a smooth finish refracts the light in a play of the glowing colours. “The Congregation” reveals a device of representing multiple figures through strokes of paint, their differences blurred into unity; " Mirror Reflection” casts the vividly coloured landscape against the purity of white, drawing the mind to contemplation on social and spiritual realities.Clarice’s process allows her to give herself entirely to the work – until it is completed and time for her to offer it to the world.

Clarice possesses a distinctive way of seeing and experiencing the world, that is passed on to a viewer through encounters with her art. Combining both the wonderment of child’s worldview, and the profound wisdom of a mother, she bestows her artworks with a sense of balance and peace that resonates with the audience. From the simplest of creations to more complexly put together works, her work embraces universal values that are communicated with sensitivity, and reveal her fascination and intrigue of life.

As perhaps described in the painting “The Open door”, that signifies a bridge between the internal and external, the microcosm and macrocosm, the earthly and the divine – Clarice presents herself as a constant seeker, ever following the truths that lead her
Beyond the Horizon.
Swirling, viscous surfaces, with dissolving and emerging forms, rhythmic patterns, and monochromatic explorations tinged with bursts of colour. Alternately, one can see lavish swells, ridges and folds of paint, applied with generosity and deep enjoyment, creating recognisable shapes and figures within abstract spaces. These are an artist's musings on the world around, embracing natural phenomena, and also the wider cosmos and otherworldly dimensions. For Clarice Vaz, the act of painting appears as a state of consciousness that allows the flow of various elements, both physical and emotional, into visual, tangible form. Each work that is created with this act, is filled with a sense of pulsating life, and articulated feeling. The intense colours and textures, linear constructions and spatial formations establish varied moods in a painting that invites the viewer into deeper engagement with it.

The paintings in this compilation are realised in Clarice's distinct energetic way - they evolve from her gestures, and from her deep physical and psychological involvement in the painting process. She intuitively chooses imagery and narrative from a personal, social and cultural environment, moving fluidly through different styles - both figuration and abstraction, always making her work accessible to a wide ranging viewership. In works like, "Let there be Light", "Inner Turmoil", "Journeying Home", each has a dramatic presentation of colour and composition, yet portraying different energies through the symbolic and spontaneous formation of colours. In "Still Waters" and "Splendour of Creation", the dynamism is subdued, and the experience of silence and vastness is greater. Clarice allows the colours to speak for themselves, functioning as a sensitive medium to channel their energies. Each work provides different avenues for interpretation, for varied viewers. In the abstracted compositions, sometimes one can see a rocky landscape, at times a mountain or a river, morphing into the sky - sometimes a field of trees or the never ending ocean of light fading away into a distant undefined space.

Having been a painter for a short period (Clarice took up painting late in her life) - her tools are very important to her and range from a few conventional choices, to varied spatulas, (hair)brushes and even objects foreign to a studio like syringes and other innovatively designed tools. This gives her multiple methods and devices to manipulate and play with paint on the surface. This is sometimes dabbed down flatly, or mixed with other mediums to give it substance and the impasto thickness. Adding and subtracting to the surface medium is part of her methodology - sometimes in a single work one can find different methods of paint application, from thin washes to thick controlled drips. "Heavenly Light" and the remarkable painting "The Narrow Pathway" are characteristic of the intense and time consuming craft that becomes a part of applying paint in controlled drops. The complexity of the process is erased in the unity of the picture plane, where each colour and line is exactly in place. She deftly introduces figures where they carry the story forward, mediating imagery through memory, experience, iconography and imagination.

Clarice's visual language seems attuned to the abstract rather than the representational, though the two are often integrated. Abstraction is a journey into the interpretation of what remains unrevealed in reality, it peels away the outer layers and seeks the bare essence, the most pertinent components of knowledge or information. Similarly, enveloping and depicting the outer familiar layers of objects, landscapes and figures creates narratives that are representative of corporeality. It is natural that a viewers' state of mind and conditioning will reciprocate diversely the language of colours and forms. Each linear motif and texture is intensified to present a core experience and the viewer is taken along into these mindscapes. The interaction frames the manner in which it is experienced, individually or collectively. The paintings have the capacity to raise thoughts in a viewers' mind and also perhaps throw out answers to life's innumerable, unexplainable questions.

As an artist, Clarice connects various intellectual, spiritual and metaphorical narratives that come from contemporary experience. She takes a critical look at everyday life and is deeply aware and responsive to the human condition, the superficiality, conflicts, pain and displacement that are apparent. In a complex milieu of socio-political, cultural and religious barriers, she attempts to find peace - it is her Sadhana, an intense meditation - looking into the continuum of time, space and human existence within it.

Poignant truths from the Christian belief drive her understanding, and engender in her the possibility of transcendence while living within a fast-paced, chaotic world. Clarice's artistic perceptions enfold a spiritual consciousness that celebrates oneness among human beings - moving beyond physical realities to those from another dimension, juxtaposing the microcosm with the macrocosm. She refers to momentous stories from the Christian book of faith to derive simple lessons of living. She reiterates the symbol of the crucified Jesus in "Follow Me" and "...why have You Forsaken me", and celebrates the purity of mercy and compassion in "Soft Winged Dove". She believes discovering and conquering the trials life throws each of us towards a higher pathway, and towards universal healing.

Clarice incorporates different narrative devices within her paintings making associations to the natural and mystical world. Memory and experience, history, nostalgia, loss and hope intermingle at varied levels, providing an emotive space of self-discovery - and this is what she shares with her viewers.
In her light-filled house skirted by rice paddies in a peaceful vaddo of Saligao, Clarice Vaz is steadily building a unique oeuvre of artworks that are a formidable monument to her irrepressible passion, and a profoundly moving tribute to her beloved son, the late Craig Vaz.

Vaz signs her artwork with Craig's name to keep it alive forever, permanently cherished by the owners of his mother's paintings, as they circulate around the world and in Goa. The increasing popularity should not come as a surprise, despite the fact their creator is a registered nurse who only turned to painting full-time relatively recently. This is because Clarice Vaz has been impressively innovative and inventive. Her self-taught "fluid" technique yields canvases that are hypnotically powerful, drawing the viewer deep into long glimpses of eternity. The "spin" paintings - executed on a home-made machine in the Vaz back garden - pack an irresistible, colourful punch. The additional suite of "syringe" paintings are perhaps unique in art history - they have required a nurse's expert hand to create these extraordinarily detailed works depicting an idealized Goa.

Today's art world is dominated by manufactured superstars, by surface-deep cleverness and calculation. This leaves little space for recognizable sincerity, for sheer perseverance. But these are precisely the rare characteristics that shine throughout Clarice Vaz's canvases, each palpably imbued with love and dedication, and the compulsive quest for the divine spark that fuels this artist's vision.

It is not a secret that Craig Vaz was felled by a very rare, undiagnosed ailment that his mother also carries. But Clarice Vaz refuses treatment, and instead paints for hours every day. The practice of deep meditation with her artistic tools and innovative mediums is - quite literally - a life-saver. This vitality is easily detected in the artwork. These are paintings that truly matter.

For the path-breaking art exhibition, Aparanta, which took place in the Old GMC building in Panjim in 2007, the brilliant curator and writer Ranjit Hoskote took several days to travel around Goa to visit artists in their home studios. At the time, there was very little local interest, coupled with a strong resistance to the very idea of "Goan art".

But Hoskote detected the presence of something truly significant. Noting that Goan artists have fed the Indian art world for generations like "an invisible river", he reported being shocked to repeatedly find "meteorically brilliant artists" languishing unknown because of "a lack of context". Goa at that time glaringly lacked critics and collectors with the wherewithal and confidence to celebrate talent where it flourished.

Instead, shallow and cursory diktats from Delhi and Mumbai held sway, even here in the land of Fonseca and Trindade and Gaitonde, and Saligao's own Francis Newton Souza.

Less than a decade after Hoskote magisterially registered Goa's twenty-first century art trajectory in the national imagination, many things have changed for the better. Some artists in Goa have started to earn real success, and national critical appreciation. The collector base is steadily burgeoning.

But the challenge still remains to this still-forming art world, whether it can understand and accept real artistic guts when it shows up unannounced, or from an unexpected source. Clarice Vaz's heartfelt paintings demand that kind of recognition. My sincere congratulations for her remarkable achievement.
In the darkest recesses of the mind, the true artist scavenges for inspiration. Out of this primal darkness are born works of illuminating brilliance.
Clarice Vaz plunged headlong into a malevolent darkness brought on by the sudden demise of her son, Craig. And surfaced bearing luminous little pieces of her soul, in the form of her art.
Art that is unfettered by the tragedy that birthed it, but soars instead on the gossamer wings of hope, joy, beauty and eternity.

A burst of bright colours and vibrant motion informs her paintings. Clarice uses bold techniques, employing the tools available to every artist, as well as borrowing some from her previous avatar as a nurse. She achieves interesting effects by using a syringe to transfer paint on canvas. It is a tedious and painstaking process, the outcome of which she seldom has any control over: As she says- what has to arise, will... She believes her works validate her faith in her religion and humanity- thought there is nothing that marks them as belonging to any particular religion. Most of it is abstract expressionism, but she also does the occasional Goa inspired beach scene or pays homage to the Mae de Deus Church of her village- Saligao, and the Churches of Old Goa. The process of painting is meditative for Clarice. She is grateful for the catharsis it offers; losing her sense of self, subsuming her ego in a riot of colours. It has helped her cope with the loss of her son Craig, in whose memory she signs every painting. Art has filled the void in her heart- figuratively and literally. Clarice, who suffers from a heart disorder; lives each day with the knowledge that she has just this moment to cherish. It transfuses her paintings with an urgency. Her work is unpretentious and fresh; a celebration of this fleeting chimera we call life. And thankfully for us, it is untouched by the rigours of art pedagogy. Clarice's art speaks the language of her heart. Still yourself and listen closely, you will be able to comprehend it...
Clarice's paintings depict the beauty of Goa and are very pleasant to look at. The bright colours and an innovative technique using a syringe instead of a brush makes her a painter with a promising future. She deserves to be encouraged.
Clarice's works resonate the fluid energy of her inner meanderings as she muses over the universal and the spiritual forces that guide and shape our lives.
I really appreciate the love you have for arts and your ceaseless efforts to bring out the artist in you.
Certainly one of your paintings would enhance any space that needed a bold representation in colour and keeping to simple themes work well when the content is as dramatic and powerful in the colour scheme as yours is. You have a good flair for using the brightness and depth of the Indian colour palette which I hope you will continue to develop.
Born in Uganda, Clarice grew up in Goa and studied in India to become a qualified nurse and midwife. When the loss of her son, Craig, at a young age drove her into deep despair, she heeded the call to heal her inner spirit through art.

After initially experimenting with knives and syringes, tools from her erstwhile profession, to create figurative works in a style that is uniquely hers, a mishap of spilt paint on her studio floor came as a sign from the Universe for Clarice to plumb her psyche through abstracts.

She began working on reproducing the phenomena she experienced that day on canvas, with brilliant colours, usually but not always, radiating from the center to the edges of the work as if from a spinning motion. This motion, arising from her inner journey of spinning from darkness to light, pervades the canvas and even runs over the edges.

Clarice's abstract works are full of vibrant and fluid colours, poured onto the canvas and lovingly nurtured, caressed and encouraged to flow into the patterns that reveal the landscape of her inner musings onto canvas. Her works, when viewed from different angles arouse different perspectives.

It was with delight that I was invited to view her work at Saligao, Goa, where she now lives and I wish Clarice every success for her forthcoming exhibition "Awakening the Cosmos Within" at Gallery Gitanjali, Panjim, Goa.