By Malavika Neurekar
In November 2009 – less than a decade ago – the gates of Goa Chitra Museum at Benaulim were thrown open to the public. A life-long dream of Victor Hugo Gomes, Goa Chitra served as a gateway to Goa’s agrarian past and quickly garnered attention from the media, the government, and the general public. Recognition followed suit. In the first year itself, the museum received the Vincent Xavier Verodiano award, and a section of the Museum’s collection was exhibited at the University Institute of Lisbon. That same year, on an invitation by the Fundacao Oriente to Portugal, Victor Hugo received the opportunity to visit as many as eighteen museums. Since then, these European Museums have extended certificates of recognition to Goa Chitra including the British Museum. In 2010, a California based Goan diaspora NGO, Goa Sudharop, presented a monetary award to Goa Chitra, acknowledging its instrumental role in the preservation of Goa’s heritage. Other well-wishers, who have extended financial support in their own way include PadmaBhushan awardee Dr. Gulzar and acclaimed artist Dom Martin.
The allure of the museums has also drawn four lakh visitors since its inception including students, researchers, and eminent personalities such as Hollywood superstar, Mr. Robert De Niro and his daughter Ms. Drena De Niro; renowned Indian poet, lyricist, and director Sampooran Singh Kalra Gulzar; the Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk; winner of the Man Booker Prize Kiran Desai; astronomer and Padmabhushan Awardee, Dr. Jayant Vishnu Narlikar to name a few.
In 2012, Victor Hugo conceptualised a second wing of Goa Chitra – the Goa Chakra museum, India’s first transportation museum. Expanding his vision and working with the same undying fervour, Goa Cruti – the third museum, centered around the Portuguese colonisation – was born in 2014 and opened for public viewing in 2016. What is most remarkable is the international acclaim that the museums have received, even without government support or UNESCO recognition. The parent museum, Goa Chitra, featured in the National Geographic Magazine in 2013 and was listed as a ‘Must Visit’ site by the US weekly magazine Time. Goa Chakra was covered by the BBC in 2013 as ‘India’s Unique Carriage Museum’. Goa Chitra is highly recommended by ‘Trip Advisor’, ‘Rough Guide’ and ‘Lonely Planet’. In March 2014, Victor Hugo Gomes and Goa Chitra Museum received the Business Goa Award for corporate excellence in conserving Goa’s Heritage and culture. In 2015, Victor Hugo’s toil and hardwork was recognised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, when Goa Chitra was awarded the prestigious Felga-Gracias award.
Goa Chitra, while preserving the aspects of a culture long gone, makes an active attempt to function as a cultural centre thriving with activity. Over the years, Goa Chitra has been at the centre of organising a host of events – ranging from workshops aimed at creating awareness about Goan customs and craft techniques, foreign students exchanges, and documentation of the traditional arts and crafts in remote Goan villages.
Today, Goa Chitra has moved beyond collection, documentation, and display of everyday objects into becoming a centre for culture and fostering a general environment for artistic learning. Instances of this include numerous workshops – guitar, China mosaic, block printing, candle making, oil painting on canvas – conducted over the years. The Harvest Festival on World Food Day and Christmas tradition revivals during December are annually held events. Goa Chitra has always provided a platform for budding artists. The Dom Martin Gallery at the entrance, showcasing the works of aspiring painters, exemplifies this. Other instances include: the Narrative Art Residency, with eight participating female artists, held in celebration of International Women’s Day 2014; and the recent dance instillation Apnnavop in commemoration of International Museum Day 2016. Goa Chitra, Chakra, and Cruti have transcended the label of ‘museums’. By launching an inquiry into Goa’s cultural roots and creating the kind of buzz that they have, Goa Chitra has put Goa’s rapidly fading culture on to the map. It has become Victor Hugo’s gift to the people of Goa.