Goa Familia: Where the spotlight is on the family story

Arti Das | Updated on December 13, 2019

A picture speaks a thousand words: Antoinette Fernandes’s sister (third from right) and cousins at a salon in Mumbai   -  MARIUS FERNANDES

Ten families, a bunch of photographs, postcards and loads of nostalgia. An archive at the upcoming Serendipity Arts Festival stitches together memories of Goa

Third from the right; dressed in white; hair neatly parted in the middle with every strand in place. Christine D’Souza — one among a group of six young women in a sepia image from the 1950s — looks confident as she smiles down from a frame on the walls of a gallery in Panaji, Goa. Scattered around her — along the same wall — are other women, men and children, all from Goa. They, too, are captured in wooden frames, waiting to greet visitors at the photography section of the week-long Serendipity Arts Festival, which begins on December 15.

D’Souza — who changed her surname to Vas after marriage — funded her sister Antoinette Fernandes’s education with her earnings from a salon in Mumbai. Antoinette (87) now lives on Goa’s Divar island with her son, Marius. Dementia has corroded her memory but the photographs in her custody help her put the pieces of her past together. Part of her family story is now on display at the annual arts festival, under a project called Goa Familia.

Under the guidance of Rahaab Allana, curator of the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts and Serendipity Arts Foundation, the project, which took off four months ago, captures the history of 10 families from Goa through an archive of photographs, interviews, postcards, heirlooms and memorabilia. Most of these were collected by the team, led by curator Lina Vincent and photographer Akshay Mahajan, from the family homes in Goa. A part of it came through connections established through social media.

Speaking to BLink during the run-up to the Festival, Vincent admits that making families open up about the past took time. “It’s a private space — personal memories and family history,” she says. “But, thankfully, when the conversation started, especially with the older generations, stories started flowing. Bit by bit, Vincent and Mahajan, with the help of research associates Divesh Gadekar and Nishant Saldanha, collected items that tell the story of Goa through different communities and places.

While the photographs show glimpses of carnivals, family vacations, birthdays, wedding and other special occasions, the voice recordings throw light on Goan history, social customs and even migration, following the Liberation in December 1961. “This is the sort of learning you don’t get in history books,” Vincent says, referring to the mixed views on the exit of the Portuguese after almost 450 years of colonial rule.

“We found that every family has one memory keeper and it was always a woman,” Mahajan says. The team spent hours — even days — with the families in Goa, waiting for the members to narrate stories around the items they had shortlisted for the display. “In the case of Antoinette Fernandes, who suffers from dementia, there were sudden bursts of memory. Her son Marius prompted her,” Mahajan says, adding that the octogenarian would often forget the details of people at the edges of a photograph frame.

Marius, who is credited with reviving several community festivals in Goa (for instance, one that celebrates Goan breads and bakers), says the project helped him connect with the history of his family and its extended circles. “I was in the process of documenting the past [of the family] when I was approached by the team,” he says. Apart from throwing life on his mother’s life in Kenya, the UK and Goa, Marius’s contribution to the project also includes the story of his great-grandmother Ana Joaquina D’costa Rodrigues, who moved the family from Divar to a village in Bardez to escape pestilence in the early 19th century.

To 50-year-old Rimmi Pai-Dukle, a housewife based in Margao, Goa Familia offers the opportunity to share the story of her mother. Meera Kamat belonged to a traditional Hindu family from the village of Sanvordem. She broke societal norms in her pursuit of a bachelors degree in economics. She was also the only woman to address a public gathering in Sanvordem on Liberation Day.

At work: Luis Dias of Panaji with a portrait of his grandfather, Dr Victor Manuel Dias   -  IMAGE COURTESY: AKSHAY MAHAJAN


The Diases of Panaji, a family of physicians, has a reputation to guard — that of contributing significantly to the health and sanitation of Goa. Their ancestral house, in the heart of the Goan capital, is known as the ‘House of Coins’, because it served as a mint from 1834-41. These stories, and all the objects that bear testimony to them, are now in the custody of Luis Dias, a physician and musician who lives in the house with his mother, wife and son. Luis, who came to know about Goa Familia through social media, is keen that visitors to the festival get acquainted with the work of his grandfather, Dr Victor Manuel Dias (1892-1949). As director of health services, Victor Manuel designed and executed the sanitation plan for Old Goa in 1947-48. “It was a landmark achievement that was covered not just by the local press but also international media,” Luis says. His grandfather’s sanitation plan is one of the exhibits at the festival, along with portraits of the man.

During the interviews, the curators also noticed that some of the photographs from old family albums were in poor shape — eaten by white ants or discoloured by moisture. They plan to build a digital archive with the scanned images while the other items in the collection — postcards, framed photographs and so on — will be returned to the owners after the show.

Arti Das is a freelance writer based in Goa

Published on December 12, 2019

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