The curators tryst with the world of museology, the loss of intangible culture, and why museums in India need reform.
By Malavika Neurekar
Victor Hugo Gomes’s tryst with the world of museums dates far back to 1992 when he gave up his Lalitkala Academy Scholarship in Lucknow to return to Goa and assist in setting up the Christian Art Museum. He worked with unfazed dedication and determination during the short span of time he spent on the project. With Goa Chitra, when he established his own brand, the international acclaim he received was almost immediate. In 2009 itself, 18 European Museums extended recognition to Goa Chitra and Victor was invited to the University of Lisbon to exhibit a part of Goa Chitra’s collection of costumes and jewellery. In 2014, he was selected by the British Council to carry out the extensive task of mapping museums in Western India. His exposure to and familiarity with museums has led him to believe that museums and the study of museums in India needs urgent reform. In most European museums, it is crucial to build and document the narrative behind each artefact. This is necessitated by the fact that the objects in European museums are acquired from other cultures. “Here, we already have the objects,” Victor says, and one can hear the desperation in his voice. “Private efforts need to be encouraged. When we place objects of historical value in the hands of the government, we deprive researchers by restricting their access.” According to him, museums in India are failing because they are headed by bureaucrats rather than graduates of museology.
His desire to preserve the past is not merely restricted to the material culture and physical objects, but also includes the way of life – what he calls “intangible culture.” Take for instance, Alexander Barbosa’s recollection of Victor’s reaction to the kashti or Charudatta Prabhudesai’s memory of Victor’s affinity to Konkani songs. He believes that while museums hold the physical objects for posterity, the intangible knowledge is slipping away from our hands. Victor’s concept of intangible heritage also refers to wisdom – the kind that comes only from intimate knowledge of the tools and the lifestyle that Victor Gomes wants to preserve. As an example, Victor talks about the wheel traditionally used for farming in sandy terrain and desert areas, which are supposed to be smaller and thicker to suit the soil. The wheels used nowadays have a broad base and made from discarded rubber aircraft wheels with ball bearings, because people are adopting North Indian practices mindlessly, failing to recognise the differences of the agricultural terrains between these regions.
Victor’s vision does not call for a complete reversal to the past, nor is it a disillusioned idealised sense of history. His mission is for us, as a society, to move forward while at the same time finding an efficient and relevant way to use the past to shape our future. His mission is to utilise the wisdom that this land was built and nurtured upon; the wisdom that comes from instinct and understanding rather than books. It is the impalpable culture, floating all around us, waiting to be realised.