Yolanda de Sousa: Artist and Sportsperson Extraordinaire
Iris CF Gomes
Yolanda de Sousa has always been an awe-inspiring woman. Someone to look up to and attempt to emulate in her eternally positive attitude towards life. Known primarily for her prowess as a footballer, Yolanda has an equally extensive career as a well-known artist. These days Yolanda paints and runs the Art Chamber- Galeria de Belas Artes in Calangute along with her husband Rudolf Ludwig Kammermeier and her talented daughter Sarah Sousa Kammermeier, who has followed in her mother’s creative footsteps.
Voted player of the decade by the Women's' Football Federation, Yolanda has been captain of the Indian women’s football team. In Sultanpur in 1976, her 15 goals and two hat-tricks at the first ever National Football Championship games, proved her exemplary skill. 1977 saw Yolanda score 18 of the Goan team’s 49 goals at the National Football Championship held in Goa with the Goan team claiming the championship trophy. Yolanda made her international debut as part of the Indian team against Swedish club BET in 1976, where she led the team through seven victories and is now heralded as the first Indian woman to score a hat-trick for India. She continued as an Indian team member until an injury cut her career short in 1981.
Talking about her impressive careers as a footballer and an artist, she states that her talents come from God through her parents. ‘Dad was a great name in football. A legend in the game. My mum was very sporty too – probably the first woman to ride a motorbike in the early sixties. Not surprisingly they fell in love and tied the knot. However, she was and still is an artist and a specialist in glass painting with a style of her own. In fact, she had a solo at 82, which was a sell-out.’
Ever self-effacing, Yolanda, who once represented Goa in badminton, hockey, and athletics at the national school games with equal proficiency, says of her football career, ‘I would not in any way call it a career. It was time playing the sport I loved best, yes, of course. Having sports running in your blood simply draws you to it. It did me too. Football came in much later in which I was in full flow and a main member of the national team. Having played in the Asian Cup; toured Malaysia with the Indian team, where I had the pleasure of scoring my favourite all time goal – a Pele style bicycle kick – a dream come true; the Women’s World Cup, and test matches against visiting sides. I have played against most nations. A knee injury made me call it a day. And for me it was not a day too early.’
While everyone thinks of Yolanda as a football player who later pursued her artistic career, the fact is that she has always had both her passions on the forefront simultaneously. She says, ‘Sports and art, the two went hand in hand. There was never a first and second. It was always a first and another first.’ A believer in destiny, she explains how she tried putting off obtaining her BFA (Painting) degree so she would have enough time to give to football because she felt true art was forever and sports was limited by time. But college authorities were wiser and rather than letting her postpone her art studies, they gave her leave to be on the field and be away when representing the country. She says, ‘My gratitude and respect to them. My art and football went hand in hand all the time. But, yes, you can’t serve two masters at the same time and do justice to both. I gave my all to the game at a particular time of my life as my art side waited patiently. And when the time was ripe to give up the game I did. My thirst for it was completely quenched and there was nothing left to prove or gain. I had had my fill.’
As an artist with numerous national and international exhibitions to her credit, Yolanda says, ‘One thing I had decided was that once I hung my boots it would be art all the way. And that is exactly what it is today. Art was, is and will always be my career and my only profession.’ Some of her international (group) shows include Women Artists on Amrita Sher Gil in 2004 at Moscow and Tashkent, Roots & Shoots in 2007 at Corks Gallery, London and the International Art Exhibition in 2015 at Toyama, Japan, where she was also awarded for the most significant work produced. She has had individual international shows such as Journey Beyond Time in 2010 and VIDA in 2011 in Germany. Her latest solo exhibition Monsoon Clutter took place in 2017. She has been a participant in various art camps all over the world and the recipient of the State Cultural Award for Outstanding Contribution in Painting by the Government of Goa India for the Year 2010-11 and the NIVO Award at the 48th International Artists Camp organised by the International Artists’ Colony Hajduboszormeny Hungary in 2011.
Yolanda speaks of Picasso, her favourite artist, whose influence is seen in her work, ‘I like the power in his work, the strong sure strokes and the speed of thought being poured on the canvas through his brush. It’s not a designed work. It’s full on expression.’ This describes much of the way in which Yolanda herself relates to her art.
The canvas is Yolanda’s friend, with whom she shares her most intimate feelings and the most complex of emotions. She admittedly does not paint pictures that are necessarily pleasing to the eye. Nonetheless the pictures are representative of what makes her ‘feel pretty from within’. Yolanda deems the effect of the portrayals, be it her art installations, life performance installations, video snippets using photography, or her paintings, much more significant as compared to the technique used. Though not always one to focus on social topics, her art is without a doubt a personal statement.
When Yolanda’s art carries social message, it is based on the themes she holds close to her heart. She says, ‘Yes, today Goa makes me sad, hurt, and angry. Since 2005 my work has a lot of reflection of these feelings.’ The exhibition A Alma e a Vida (2016), for example, contemplates life and the soul. It is an attempt to portray confronting the loss of a peaceful haven (Goa) once occupied by peaceful people. Another example is her installation Life of Puff Poof which is a commentary on the substance abuse among Goan youth that has become commonplace. She continues, saying, ‘I paint and hope someone will take heed. I don’t explain my work. I think people should look at a piece of work and read into its contents. It’s pointless explaining in words. If I do that I would think I had failed in conveying my inner most thoughts through the media I have chosen.’
Inspiration comes spontaneously and not always through profound thinking for Yolanda. Scenes and concepts present themselves to her while just walking around without thinking any particular thoughts. It is usually themes and ideas that connect her to Goa. Then art takes a therapeutic turn. She says, ‘It’s like sometimes you talk about what hurts and it makes you feel better. I paint my hurt and feel better because I know I have put it where someone will hopefully understand, relate and react.’ The optimistic Yolanda is hopeful that good yet exists in people and that it will encourage change for a better Goa and a better world in time.