Posted in By Malavika Neurekar, Collection, People's Project

A Folk Dancer and A Madman

By Malavika Neurekar

Victor Hugo Gomes is a man who prides himself on authenticity. Whenever he speaks about his vision, he places additional emphasis on the word people. “A people’s project.” “A museum of the people.” “Goa Chitra was inaugurated at the hands of the people.” It is this search for authenticity that brought him in contact with the award-winning folk dancer Kanta Gawde of the Nav Gawda community. The living room of Kanta Gawde’s humble home in Veling is crammed with awards, certificates, and performance masks. A member of a traditional folk dancing family, he had an affinity towards folk dance since childhood. From a young age, he felt that folk dances were often dismissed as “tribal” and therefore inferior, and the form was not accorded the status that it deserved. He recalls the Chogm bhet in 1982, an event attended by people holding important positions of power, and Goa’s floats in Delhi at the annual Republic Day parades. He was filled with resentment because he felt that the traditional dances of Goa were being underrepresented, often marginalised. So to set things right, he mobilised the members of his community, forming a dance troupe. In 1992, his troupe entered the Republic Day parade in Delhi, showcasing Goa’s traditional folk performances in all its authenticity. That year was the first time that Goa secured the first prize at the parade. “Since then, we have never looked back,” he tells me in Konkani. Kanta Gawde’s troupe then went ahead performed at the likes of Kala Academy and most of Goa’s five star hotels, bagging several awards including the Goa State Cultural Award in 2012.

At their first meeting through a common contact Mahendra Phaldesai, Victor and Kanta Gawde immediately realised that they operated on the same wavelength. What united them almost instantly was their common underlying motive: bringing to the limelight the underrepresented, sometimes misrepresented, aspects of Goa. It was in the late 1990s, when the two got in touch to work on the Goan Quest during Victor’s stint as an event manager. The Goan Quest, conceptualised by Victor, is now carried out at Goa Chitra every Sunday during the months of November to February but was then conducted at Loutolim. Kanta Gawde’s troupe helped Victor accompany the troupe on a shigmo parade with bullock carts and palanquins through a winding road. Once they arrived at the final venue, the troupe provided the entertainment for the evening, along with a host of other entertainers, a performance complete with vibrant decor, props, and sumptuous Goan buffet. On Victor’s persuasion, Kanta Gawde’s wife Shalini, a crafts-person, set up a stall to promote her trade. Shalini and other women of the community held demonstrations and sales. The entire proceeds from the sale were retained by the craftspeople, without commission or the inference of middle men.

kanta-at-goa-chitra

In 2001, Victor stopped his event management company Resonance, in order to focus on his marriage and other dreams. The Goan Quest in Loutoulim came to a halt, but the friendship between the two endured. Kanta Gawde describes how their relationship transformed as they started to consider each other family. Kanta Gawde and Victor’s father, Angustias Gomes, would often sit together, having long conversations about Victor’s vision and where it was headed. It goes without saying that when it was time, Victor let Kanta Gawde in on his dream of starting a museum. “Goa was being packaged very differently than what it is,” Victor Gomes tells me. Kanta Gawde echoes this sentiment: “Goa was getting lost somewhere.” And so Victor employed Kanta’s services once again. They traveled together all over the Ponda taluka, meeting and interacting with villagers and tribes, and slowly building up a part of the collection. Kanta Gawde mentioned that all the objects were purchased (apart from a handful that have been gifted or donated by friends), sometimes at a higher price than estimated by the owner of the object. Such is case of dongri nangor, a three-piece wooden plough that had been discarded by the dhangar who owned it. Victor Hugo reiterates that Kanta Gawde was instrumental in many of the collection trips in that area. “A kunbi saree produced here in Goa is very hard to get these days,” he says. “But Kanta managed to acquire it for me.” Once again, Victor emphasizes the role of the people here. He reminds me how the curation of objects was done taking into consideration the people who possessed these items, and the sense of personal history as well as the community’s collective history that was tied to it. Talking about their personal equation, Kanta Gawde tells me that he has known Victor as a man bubbling with ideas, but lacking stability for a long time. He is of the opinion that Victor often fell into the wrong company of people, being susceptible to manipulation. He exudes sincerity as he tells me that the stability Victor needed came after marrying Aldina and keeps reiterating the open-hearted generosity of the two.

Posted in By Malavika Neurekar, Finance & Sustenance, People's Project

When the Art World United: Part II

To read the first part of When the Art World United, click here.

The King and the Peasant

By Malavika Neurekar

Victor Hugo Gomes, made weary by the pace at which his work was taking place, woke up to an unexpected email on the morning of 21st October, 2009. It was a letter from a great Goan artist based in California, Dom Martin, which opened with a small tale:

“In ancient times, a king had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king’s wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the king for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the big stone out of the way. Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. On approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. As the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the king indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many others never understand: every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.”

The implication of Dom Martin’s allegory became clearer as Victor continued to read the rest of the email. Dom Martin had decided to part with all that remained of his material possessions in Goa, and bequeathed a generous donation to Goa Chitra. Victor trembled with excitement and a certain degree of disbelief as he continued to read. Dom Martin, assuming the role of the ‘king’ and likening Victor to the ‘peasant’ in the story, had also bequeathed upon Victor theeight panels of pen on paper drawings that adorned St. Francis Xavier’s casket at the 1974 exposition; seventy-one original artworks locked up in Martin’s Porvorim flat; and the rights to the Porvorim flat of 140 sqmt!That was not all. The Vincent Xavier Verodiano Foundation, instituted by Dom Martin in memory of his father, was established with the objective of recognising and awarding excellence in various fields such as literature, arts, medicine, etc. The foundation had already conferred the prestigious award upon Victor earlier that same year (which included a cash donation of Rs. 50,000 and a medal), and now Dom Martin had expressed his wish to pass that legacy on to Victor as well, alongside the corpus fund of the Foundation at Victor’s disposal.

Artists contribution.jpg

Victor was at a loss of words, and continues to be amazed even today every time he talks about that fateful October morning.In 2014, he launched the Dom Martin art gallery, which stands at the entrance of Goa Chitra, with the stated objective of promoting young local artists. All the works on displayat the gallery have been donated to Goa Chitra, and are for sale as a means of raising revenue for Goa Chitra. At the heart of this interaction is the fact that the two artists did not know each other personally or had even met. Yet, Dom Martin reached to Victor from the other end of the world based solely on Goa Chitra’s merit and the recognition of its struggles. A quick glance at the email correspondences between them reveals that both men harbour a desire to meet in some part of the world some day. An exemplification of how art transcends distance and space to make possible the coming together of like-minded souls, it is perhaps best expressed by Dom Martin himself in his piece The Aesthetic Evolution of Madness.

*

The Aesthetic Evolution of Madness…

By Dom Martin

dom_martin_by_f-n-_souza_19801

If eccentricity is genius temperament then a refined madness, which motorizes one to maniacally scavenge for discarded vestiges of the past and metamorphose them into museum exhibits, rightfully deserves to be bestowed a cultural halo.  Victor Hugo Gomes belongs in this genre of madness.

In 2009, when I bequeathed my 3-bedroom flat and the entire collection of my mid 70’s art which was decaying therein, a condescending Victor thanked me profusely.  In the subsequent years, he staked out exorbitant sums of money to restore the art and the flat.

The question foments:  Did one caliber of madness underestimate, supersede or absolve the other?  The verdict is in the wallets of art collectors, which have a tendency to instantly fatten or resurrect upon the demise of artists who labored and continually exhibited within the engulfing walls of oblivion.

Other than for the uncommon commonality of symbiotic madness, Victor and I have yet to meet and perhaps, might never.  However, someday when posterity peers through time’s kaleidoscope, it might likely find our autonomous identity among the colorful, fragmented pieces.  And that, is satisfaction enough!

Posted in People's Project

Chacha

By Victor Hugo Gomes

When Goa Chitra was inaugurated in 2009, there was not a single politician or VIP invited or honoured as a chief guest. In fact, the place buzzed with the excited chatter and humble presence of locals from the community. The ceremonial lighting of the divo was carried out by six traditional professionals: a toddy tapper, a farmer, a basket weaver, a fisherman, a coconut plucker, and a potter. The whole event was symbolic of what the museum stands for – power to the people, to the common man.

Goa Cruti, the newest addition to the Goa Chitra establishment was opened for previews on 23rd January, 2016. It is dedicated to Mr. Jashwanth Singh, who passed away on 23rd January 2015. Mr. Jaswanth Singh, a dedicated member of the Goa Chitra team in the form of a restorer of objects and a part of the museum’s security team, is none other than the eponymous chacha. The following piece was written by Victor Hugo Gomes himself, to commemorate the beloved chacha and all that he stood for.

GCR- Final chacha 3

The Goa Chitra and Goa Chakra museums in Benaulim strive to preserve the tangible heritage of this country for posterity. A totally self-funded project, these museums showcase to the world the ingenuity of our ancestors and their indigenous wisdom. These efforts are the result of the hard work of a team of dedicated staff, who work tirelessly and fiercely along with me and the management in the hope that the museum will one day draw the attention of the benefactors of this land and conceptualize into a centre for cultural and ethnographic studies. The aim is that the future generations will have a space in which their ancestry is preserved and kept alive so that their search for their roots will not go in vain.

10940624_10205876171966173_5619877491515503365_n.jpg
Chacha being felicitated by special guest Caitano Silva, MLA of Benaulim on the 5th anniversary of Goa Chitra

In this process the makers of the museum work with total dedication even at the expense of their own trials, stretching their resources and energy to accommodate this vision. Today we pay a special tribute to one of such team member who played a pivotal role in preserving Goa’s heritage and who in the last years of his life dedicated it totally and selflessly in preserving and restoring every implement on display at the Goa Chitra and Goa chakra museum. For the last 16 years out of my 25 years journey with Goa Chitra, he worked closely with me, assembling every implement that stands as a testimony to his skill. His methods and technique was totally based on his own proficiency in understanding material like metal and wood. He would assemble an implement with such accuracy as if it was he who had created it in the first place. He knew the age old method of joinery; putting wood together without nails but through interlocking. He knew how wood would expand and what would make it breath and how to balance the metal with the wood.

Such was Jashwanth Singh fondly called Chacha by us. A poet at heart, Chacha could not sit idle. He would create small artifacts that would balance the beautiful landscape; birds on tree tops, nests with beautiful eggs which only when you realized later they were made of wood you would know it was Chacha’s hand at work. Everything he experienced he penned down as poetry and on the ekktara (which he made from a coconut shell). Chacha would sing the sad melody of his life, having faced several trials and disillusionment. He lost much of his family during the partition of 1947. He lost his wife and family thereafter and had no family to turn to except the one he decided to adopt. We were his family and he was ours. There was no written contract or agreement or time when it took place but in a way we grew on to each other.

A pious man, Chacha prayed every day, to give him strength to battle his one weakness that in the end finally killed him suddenly. His battle with alcoholism in his later years was difficult as the memories of his past would haunt him. He tried very, very hard, having months of sobriety in-between bouts of terrible drunkenness and hospitalization.
Every year some time before 26th of January and around 15th August, Chacha would hit the bottle for a couple of days and then fight it whole heartedly, but as age caught on with him so were his withdrawals very difficult to tolerate. Such was the case with him on the 23rd of January 2015, where his heart gave up and he died of a heart attack. He left without saying good bye. We miss him terrible today and feel his void in ways that words cannot describe.

Posted in Branding & Institutionalisation, People's Project

Creating the Brand ‘Goa Chitra’

By Bismarck Dias

The Goa Chitra logo has been conceptualized and designed by Bismarck Dias. Private Museum as it may be on paper, Victor Hugo holds on steadfastly to the belief that Goa Chitra is a people’s project. It is through the coming together of individual contributions that it has today become a product of collective effort. Bismarck Dias’s decision to contribute to the project in the way best known to him is just one of many such exemplary initiatives. 


“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do” – Steve Jobs

Victor Hugo Gomes is one of them.

Nine years back I remember a friend telling me “Victor wants you to come and see his project. He seriously wants your opinion. If you are doing nothing lets go now.” And we did. We drove down the winding roads of Benaulim into what looked like a vegetation farm. The place was peaceful and quite. We knew each other by name but had never met before. Victor was standing there at the gate to welcome us. On the first glance itself, he looked intense and crazy and I knew it wouldn’t be a waste time. There is always something to learn from crazy people, you can see sincerity in their eyes. Poker face Victor got straight to the point with a lot of intensity. He took us around while he explained every bit with a lot of passion. He was the Google of Goan history and culture. I felt like a Lilliput listening to Gulliver. He had no commercial interest. It was for the love of Goa’s lost heritage and culture. In a world of manipulators it was refreshing to meet a real person.

Bismarck final.
Illustration by Charudatta Ram Prabhudesai

Everything I touched and felt in Goa Chitra took me back in time. It was a flashback to my childhood, with my grandparents and the farmers I interacted with then. It was so beautiful, organic and pure. As he spoke he looked helpless and isolated. Knowing the shallow political hurdles one has to face, I gathered. I remember saying to him, “You took me by surprise. This is insane… I want to be part of this.”

He said he had no support to take this forward as he drained out all the cash and nobody was getting the point of what he was trying to do. I told him he needed good marketing if he wants the world to take this project seriously. I decided to take the responsibility of marketing Goa Chitra. “Send me everything I need to know about this place and I will work on it from scratch from wherever I am in the world,” I said. Thanks to the internet. He had tears rolling down his eyes. And that’s when our friendship and journey to take Goa Chitra forward began.

Initially I remember I would speak about Victor’s project to friends and they would laugh and say “Don’t take him seriously, he is crazy”. Truth is I take only crazy people seriously. When Goa Chitra was launched he called me up excitedly, like a child and told me how things are falling in place. Every artifact housed in Goa Chitra has a history as well as a story of how he restored them and gave them life. Today, Goa Chitra has educated the new generation about the past and the old generation came alive with stories from the Goa we lost. When a man transforms into a child with his passion, that’s the time you know he is going to change the world.

Victor, thank you for changing our world.


bismarck new profile.jpgBismarck Dias is a lover of art, architecture, music, and movies. He graduated from Goa College of Art in1983, and has since been associated with agencies including Trikaya Grey, Lintas, O&M in Mumbai, and Montage TV, FortunePromo Seven, and Bates in Dubai. He has done editorial illustrations for Debonair Magazine, and bagged awards for his work in the advertising industry. He currently resides in Dubai, but is a nature lover and misses the quiet village life in Goa.

Posted in By Malavika Neurekar, Events, People's Project

Back to Basics

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By Malavika Neurekar

Walking into and around Goa Chitra (exclusively Chitra, the flagship museum), one is quick to realise that the research, documentation, and display there is rooted in the fact that Goa used to be a primarily agrarian society. Before the mining industry dominated Goa’s economy and imported products from outside the state and the country flooded the markets, agriculture was the main mode of sustenance for a large component of the populace. Thus, it makes sense that Goa Chitra is set against the backdrop of a picturesque field with farm animals running helter skelter, and that it has come to be recognised for its characteristic open, earthy space. In retrospect, it makes even more sense that it all stemmed from an organic farm. In order to honour the traditions of where Goan society comes from, and indeed where Goa Chitra’s foundation comes from, the team holds annual events related to agriculture and farming.

The most popular of these events is the Harvest Festival held every year on 16th October on World Food Day. The most fundamental aspect the Harvest Festival is the involvement of school children. Every year, kids from the local schools and from across Goa join the xetcamoti and engage in farm work along with parents and teachers – right from cutting the corn with a sickle to threshing to separate the grain. A rather delightful activity is the smoking of mackerels in hay with bidam sol and red chillies, wrapped in banana leaves. The mackerels are later feasted upon with the mouth-watering combination of pez (Goan rice gruel) served from a traditional earthen pot; pezecho budkulo with chepni (small pickled mangoes) and kharem (smoked, salted dry fish). The whole event is set to the tune of a brass band churning melodies in the background.

Another related event, which has met with considerable success, is the Kitchen Garden Workshop. There has been a growing debate globally about the ethics of food production, ‘organic’ being the buzzword. While growing awareness amongst many has pushed them towards the organic lifestyle, there is a significant portion of the society that still views Anything Organic with reserve and suspicion. They disregard it as a ‘Hipster trend’ or a ‘fad’, failing to recognise what the term ‘organic’ really entails. It is essentially to create this awareness and introduce the participants to the process of growing their own vegetables that the Kitchen Garden Workshop is held. It comprises a series of interactive lessons and lectures on topics ranging from seed germination, to creation of compost from waste; from improving the drainage quality of the soil by introducing natural additives, to techniques of furrowing and sowing.

The thought behind organising these events is to familiarise and sensitise the participants to the work ethic of the farmer in an interactive, experiential way. Victor Gomes stresses that there is a need for such activity within the museum space, refusing to let the spirit of the museum slip into passivity. The Harvest Festival is free of cost, inclusive of the sumptuous buffet, and Victor opines that “due to a shortage of funds, the events also act as a fun and interactive marketing strategy. I could have chosen to spend the money on bill boards but I consider these events more impressionable and newsworthy.”