Room with a view

The Asian Age
Panaji, Sep 25, 2009:
When restorer Victor Hugo Gomes was awarded this year’s Verodiana
award no one here was particularly surprised. The artist restorer had
just this year launched an ethnographic museum he called Goa Chitra.
Far from the madding crowd, secluded in a coastal village, Gomes had
been tinkering away for years, putting together a astounding
collection, that when it went on display took many by surprise.
Considering it’s a labour of love, a museum that has been
conceptualised and realised by a single individual, with no
institutional support — the effort is awe inspiring,

Goa Chitra represents the culture of ancient Goa . The artifacts on
display reflecting the life, religion, homes, trades and practices of
this small west coast region, that remained even until the mid 1980s
frozen in time — much of its population engaged in primary
activities of agriculture, horticulture, fishing, and in vast swathes
of its interior. ferrous ore mining.

Its creator seems to have had an innate love for all things antiquated
and began a private collection that steadily grew, during a stint he
spent restoring old Indo-Portuguese houses. “People seemed to have no
use for these old seemingly useless household items, so I began
collecting them. Then I went in search of more, trawling old attics
and storehouses of anyone who would let me” says Gomes.

” Over the years I have been collecting old implements and tools,
initially as a passion but over the last few years with the sudden
awareness that a heritage was being lost without documentation, then
the passion turned into an obsession”.

The result is a collection that grew from 200 to 4000 pieces.

Central to Goa Chitra’s display — privately accumulated and
restored — is a 16 ft high wooden oil grinder or ghanno, that also
figures as the museum’s logo. Palm oil extractors of this kind fell
into misuse with mechanisation, and the museum piece was restored from
its broken parts left with an aging “ghannekar” ( a profession that
has since died out).

A walk through the museum’s small display rooms would be a nostalgic
trip back in time for many from India’s coastal regions as some trade
tools tend be more or less similar. Implements associated with the
multi-use indigenous palm tree take pride of place. Not least because
Goa Chitra is located in the south Goa village of Benaulim —- famed
for its eccentrics ( as Gomes points out) and quite literally its
variety of coconut, the Benaulim coconut, acknowledged as one of
India’s largest species and propagated by agriculture research labs).

Tools of the toddy tappers, those of coconut pluckers, the vessels and
implements used to make derivatives like jaggery, vinegar, palm feni
and rope. aside from making an interesting display, also lend a sense
of the elaborate rituals and economic importance these once held in
the region’s plantation and agrarian economy. The museum’s researched
information, contextualises displays for the viewer, enriching the
experience. Collections of masonry tools, carpentry equipment, items
of once daily use by village barbers, cobblers, herders, weavers,
smithys and potters give browsers a sense of professions central to
erstwhile self-sustaining village life.

It’s a surprise to find quaint liquid and grain measures of various
forms used by grocers of yore, traditional implements to churn milk, a
rare wooden rice noodle maker, exquisite oil lamps of pre-electricity
times, palanquins and carriages, a variety of ploughs, household
storage containers, once ubiquitous earthern ware cooking pots with
their varied uses and nomenclature that old timers recall; stone
grinders, antiquated toys, traditional games, customary altars and
religious accessories.

The museum has its sights set on exhibiting much more from the
cultural cornucopia. Plans for a second phase visualises putting
antique jewellery, costumes, medical equipment, crockery and cutlery,
photographs , manuscripts and other art and artifacts on display.

Space is a constraint. Completely self financed by its creator, Goa
Chitra is housed in the middle of a 12,000 sq m organic farm owned by
Gomes’ family. The building itself, in keeping with its celebration of
a “waste-free” culture — is a new construction built using
architectural castaways from 300 traditional houses — giving it a
curious amalgamated look. Wood doors, windows, pillars, rafters and
other material have been consciously resurrected in the museum.

Gomes is unabashed about his admiration for the past — for the
accumulated wisdom of agrarian practices, the beauty of traditional
arts and crafts and the entire harmonious village system that was
sensitive to the environment.

“Goa Chitra believes in reviving age old traditions through the
museum and in outreach programes so that the younger generation can
share the wisdom of the past which would otherwise be irretrievably
lost”.(ends)

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