Goa's Museum of Christian Art aims to enhance visitor experience through redesigned interiors and learning tools
The ambitious upgradation project prepared and executed jointly by the museum and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (Portugal) included structural restoration of the building, a new interior museographic layout and conservation of art objects.
The Museum of Christian Art (MoCA) set up in 1994 in Old Goa provides hours worth of artefacts for one to study and explore, besides arguably being one of Goa's best. With the technical and financial assistance of The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation of Portugal and Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), New Delhi, it is the first of its kind in Asia. The museum has enriched the cultural heritage and history of Goa with an important and unique collection of Indo-Portuguese art objects in ivory, gold, silver, wood and textiles, spanning from the 16th century to mid-20th century.
Re-opened after a hiatus of four years, as it was closed in 2017 for upgradation and refurbishing, MoCA is all set in its revamped glory to impress lovers of history, art and architecture.
When Firstpost reached out to curator Natasha Fernandes, asking about the changes the museum has undergone, she mentions that it has been a satisfactory experience resulting from "years of hard work".
"The museum managing committee realised that there were several areas that needed upgradation — from the point of view of the conservation of the objects and their display, as well as enhancing the visitor experience," she tells us, when asked about what prompted the museum's extensive renovation.
The ambitious upgradation project prepared and executed jointly by MoCA and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (Portugal) included structural restoration of the building, a new interior museographic layout and conservation of art objects. The structural restoration of the building was carried out keeping in mind its historic location within the 17th century Convent of Santa Monica, and included the restoration of a part of the upper floor (the historic choir loft), which is now a viewing gallery giving visitors a view of the whole museum, along with a glimpse of the imposing main altar of the adjoining church.
"Another significant aspect of the project involved the conservation of the museum’s collection for which it collaborated with INTACH, New Delhi," Fernandes informs. In the new museum layout, the art objects from the establishment's collection have been showcased in specially designed display cases with appropriate lighting and climate control. The collection has also been grouped according to their materials and arranged in a chronological order to assist the interpretation of the evolution of Indo-Portuguese art history.
Besides such cosmetic changes, the museum has also incorporated a chairlift to enable persons with special needs and senior citizens to access level one (mezzanine).
On account of the ongoing pandemic, the museum had reopened earlier this year with a partial installation of some sections, which include precious objects on the ground floor, and wood and ivory sculptures, crucifixes and furniture on the first floor. The complete installation will be scheduled once the team from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation are able to travel to Goa, according to Natasha.
When asked about how the visitor experience has been enhanced, the curator says that the museographic layout and lighting have significantly uplifted that aspect. "The information boards that provide detailed information about the building as well as the collection, and the various sections help the visitor understand the space and collection better," she says. "Besides, the wall texts and the museum guidebook provide the visitors with detailed information about some of the objects on display. The museum will shortly launch the audioguides, which the museum hopes will also enhance the visitor experience."
The Museum of Christian Art has worked on a range of souvenirs that visitors can buy from the museum shop. These souvenirs have been inspired by the motifs and designs featured on the artefacts in its repertoire. Additionally, an alfresco cafe has been added to its campus, where visitors can rest after their day-long visits to the museum and other spots in Old Goa.
However, the minds steering MoCA have also ensured that no stone is left unturned to give it the mileage it requires in the age of social media. "The museum has a very active social media presence, and keeps its audiences informed about the various programs and events, which are organised at regular intervals. We recently invited members of the press for a curated walk of the refurbished museum," Fernandes tells us.
According to her, the museum has been hosting visitors from across India daily, ever since it reopened. "Once travel restrictions ease, we are confident that there will be more visitors to the museum. We are also focusing on promoting the refurbished museum among the local community," she adds.
The museum authorities also have plans of launching their own page on Google Arts and Culture, besides the audiobook of the book titled One Hundred Art Objects From the Museum of Christian Art. Heritage walks have become a part of their curricula as well.
For Fernandes, who is visibly excited at the prospect of what lies ahead for MoCA, her journey with the institution began in 2007 as a curator. "I was appointed as the curator in 2006 and was awarded a scholarship by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (Portugal) and Museum of Christian Art, Goa, to attend a nine-month-long training program in various aspects of Museum Management at Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Museu Nacional de Azulejo, Museu de São Roque, and Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon, from 2006-2007. Over the years, I have been involved in every aspect of the museum, including the conservation of the collection, visitor engagement and organising special events," she tells Firstpost. Natasha has curated the 'Retracing Monte Santo' heritage walk along with conservation architect Noah Fernandes. "This heritage walk promotes the museum and surrounding monuments on the Holy Hill in Old Goa. I have also been involved in the restoration of the Chapel of the Weeping Cross (Church of Santa Monica)," she says.
Now that the refurbishing of the museum is over, the most challenging aspect of her work entails managing the "ongoing funding for various museum programmes and activities, as well as ongoing maintenance."
The curator informs that they have started the 'Friends of the Museum' campaign in the hope that companies will encourage their efforts through CSR initiatives, and individuals will also lend their support to the museum in the larger interest of preservation of Goa's unique heritage.
"Since we don't have a museum-going culture, it has been a challenge to get people to visit the museum. Keeping this in mind, we are focusing our programming for different audience types," Fernandes says.
When we ask her what her favourite artefact is, and why, Fernandes struggles to answer, and understandably so. "It is really difficult to choose one. But if I had to, it would be the 'Infant Jesus Saviour of the World'. It is a highly expressive sculpture," she says.
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