By Malavika Neurekar
Rochelle Pinto and Aparna Balachandran’s Archives and Access Project is aimed at examining the complex relationship between private archiving, its legal implications, and the role of the State. In Land, Museum, Legacy, Rochelle Pinto, who is a historian specialising in pre-19th Century histories of Goa and has been a professor in the English department at Delhi University, explores the issue through a first-hand account of her visit to Goa Chitra. While delving into the functions (and diminishing economic role) of Goa’s land ownership system and its implications on private researchers/archivers, she provides an insightful look at the collection at Goa Chitra, its arrangement within the space, and the aesthetic impact it creates.
“[Resources on the web] suggest how the arrangement of objects crowded into this converted living space reduces the objectifying distance that a conventional museum would produce. An art historian who recommended the museum also mentioned how sensitively the objects had been restored. It is not surprising, then, to find that Gomes was trained in restoration, at INTACH in Lucknow, and returned to Goa, the place where he grew up, as curator of the museum of Christian Art to work on another project.
The enormity of the numbers of objects, and labour that must have gone into retrieving each one astounds me as the nature of Gomes’ work sinks in. We are familiar enough with cooking pots and other objects that have a more active life in the worlds of rural communities appearing in our living rooms as objets d’art, and briefly one wonders whether this is an aestheticisation of rural life. But this museum seems to side-step this problem.
The presence of these objects, not yet fully out of use (or so it would seem) in Goa, begs the question of why they had to be museumised. It is true, for instance, that cultivation has dropped drastically within Goa for a range of reasons. In some areas, it is uneconomical when the sale of land or its conversion brings higher margins. In other areas, people have been forced off the land. In yet others, irrigation patterns have been forcefully changed. And in areas where cultivation continues, it tends to be fuelled with pesticide. Yet, one can scarcely say that fishing and cultivation do not continue, particularly where there are small landholdings, using, one would think, much the same kind of technology that Gomes has in his museum. But for certain, there are precious pieces of hand-crafted agricultural technology that are impressive here, and are not in use anymore.
The wooden sugarcane crusher bound with metal for instance, was ‘rescued’ by him from Sawantwadi and restored. The texture of wood and its areas of damage are moving, as the enormous piece bears witness to labour that has vanished. A visit to some of our protected national monuments, where cracks have been filled in with visibly different materials of varying colours, would reveal, by comparison, the painstaking nature of Gomes’ work over the last decade.”
While the fist part of Rochelle’s paper is largely descriptive, the latter part wanders into a more analytical territory. The future of Goa Chitra is a question raised by many. What after Victor Gomes? Victor’s answer to this is the systematic institutionalisation of the Goa Chitra brand – an objective grasped and framed by Pinto in the following passage.
“What makes this collection interesting to a project on internet technology and questions of archives and public access, are the last two lines of Victor’s letter of invitation to his museum, asking an unspecified ‘us’ to look at the museum communally, to suggest what journey it could take. One of these journeys is clear – there is a vast trove of information about practices relating to the land that Victor has accumulated. Even as he works at turning these into text, it is evident that it would be appropriate for someone to pick up this thread of the project that he has begun, to explore other media through which the diverse life of his museum can move. Educational curricula and other kinds of publications, both printed and online, can bring in different audiences, releasing the trove of information around each object, and making it accessible as a legacy for contemporary inhabitants of Goa. Such a development would dilute the idea of a legacy being locked within the intellectual production of a particular kind of elite in Goa’s past and could potentially tap into the knowledge base of students in non-urban locales. In fact, this museum is an explicit commitment to the children of Goa, whom Victor sees possibly growing up without any connection to what is the vital culture of their home.”
To read Land, Museum, Legacy in its entirety, click here.