By Madhavan Pillai
Last week’s piece posed the perplexing question – “After Victor, Who?” Madhavan Pillai, echoing this concern, talks about his first (and second) impression of the museum, how it propelled his own career, and the need to forge Goa Chitra’s legacy.
In January 2014, along With Victor I had organised India’s first Photography Conservation symposium and series of workshops both in Mumbai and in Goa. As an artist and founder of Goa Centre for Alternative Photography fondly called as Goa-CAP, I used to meet Victor at most of the social gatherings such as exhibition openings or literature functions. Our conversations were usually spun around the art and culture of Goa. I knew about his passion for Goan culture but only started understanding his vision during our Residency programme, when I had accompanied the residents at our centre to visit ‘Goa Chitra’. I was a bit confused at the outset, the very first time I saw Goa Chitra; I was escorted around the museum by one of Victor’s colleague as he was not available at that time. Victor’s colleague had introduced us to the museum and explained about various materials kept in the museum, I was quite unimpressed since most of it was not new to me; I had observed similar objects in most museums. At the same time, however, I could not understand Victor’s pain in collecting these objects, which gave Goa Chitra the look of a science museum with curated junk around. This perception was thankfully short-lived and changed completely during my second visit, when Victor himself took me around the museum. The objects presented did not merely came across as run of the mill objects, but were a slice of Victor; each of them having a story behind being presented at Goa Chitra. The objects are not chronicled based on their age or occurrence but in the order of love and passion which is very personal to Victor’s thoughts.
Two things for which I greatly appreciate Victor is the range of historical collection presented at Goa Chitra and second and most important the commitment towards preservation and conservation of these objects. If it is not from someone who has deep commitment, passion and immense courage to undertake this endeavour, it is virtually impossible to set up and successfully run a museum, consistently for so many years. The one big concern, I have always nurtured with regards to Goa Chitra, is about its legacy after Victor; there is no second line of command. I was fortunate to learn about Goa Chitra during my second visit, something which I had completely missed during the first time. I think about the tourists who didn’t have the opportunity to know about Goa Chitra from the horse’s mouth. I think they too went back confused, just the way I did. Goa Chitra has to find and groom Victor’s next gen to take the legacy and commitment to the next level. At this point, I also feel elated to submit that I started looking at photography preservation and conservation seriously only after my thoughtful interactions with Victor. This had also motivated me to initiate India’s first photo restoration symposium, which were followed by series of workshop in Mumbai and in Goa. I will always admire the passion and commitment that Victor Hugo Gomes has, working with historical materials, their preservation and conservation.
Madhavan Pillai is the Executive Director and founder of Asia Photography Archive (APA), a not-for-profit pioneering initiative to preserve the photographic heritage of India and Asia; founder of Goa Center for Alternative photography (Goa-CAP); and Photography Consultant to CSMVS Museum Art Conservation Centre, Mumbai. Madhavan has worked as a documentary photographer, and travelled across India documenting the mining industry, its intrusion in the environment, and its effects on tribals’ lives and their culture.