(Un)Seeing Goa’s Bom Jesus in Vishvesh Kandolkar’s This is Not the Basilica!

R. Benedito Ferrão

Palavras-chave: Goan Architecture; Indo-Portuguese (Post)colonialism; Goan Baroque; Colony of a Postcolony; Goan Photography

Participação: on-line

Look up most advertising content about Goa, and it will predictably have some assemblage of the words sun, sand, and sea, the coastal location on India’s west coast fitting the geographic requirements of most tropical holiday destinations. Additionally, in the case of Goa as a tourism market, it is the former Portuguese colony’s historical and architectural distinction from the rest of once-British India that is incorporated into visual representations of the tropical destination to set it apart. To this end, the structure very often coopted is the iconic 16th-century Basilica of Bom Jesus, as Vishvesh Kandolkar demonstrates in his installation series, This is Not the Basilica! Displayed at Sunaparanta Goa Centre of the Arts between September 8 and November 20, 2021, Kandolkar’s research-based installations are multi-media but primarily use photography and elements of indigenous building practices. This is Not the Basilica! evidences how the Portuguese-era church, famous for holding the relics of St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552), has come to stand in for Goa’s historical and regional difference in South Asia while becoming a victim of its own fame. The Goan-domesticated baroque structure has suffered the vagaries of time, colonial politics, and climate change. Yet, Kandolkar’s purpose is not merely to chronicle the appearance of the Basilica in everything from Goa-related tourism promos to souvenirs. Rather, Kandolkar’s works examine how visual cultures subsume history, especially in allegedly postcolonial settings. In effect, what This is Not the Basilica! seeks to achieve is an alternative form of seeing, one that challenges imposed mainstream perspectives while activating a practice of decolonial viewership that engages with local histories. In so doing, the artist posits the need for conservation efforts that will save the deteriorating church while also revealing its unseen aesthetic past as a symbol of still-unfolding Goan identity.


R. Benedito Ferrão has lived and worked in Asia, Europe, N. America, and Oceania. He is an Assistant Professor of English and Asian & Pacific Islander American Studies at The College of William and Mary. Additionally, he has been the recipient of fellowships from the Fulbright, Mellon, Endeavour, and Rotary programs, as well as the Bayreuth Academy of Advanced African Studies. Curator of the 2017-18 exhibition Goa, Portugal, Mozambique: The Many Lives of Vamona Navelcar, he edited a book of the same title (Fundação Oriente 2017) to accompany this retrospective of the artist’s work. His scholarly writing appears in various international journals and edited books, including Research in African Literatures, Society and Culture in South Asia, Gender, Sexuality, Decolonization: South Asia in the World Perspective (Routledge 2021) and Places of Nature in Ecologies of Urbanism (HKU Press 2017). His fiction and creative non-fiction can be read in Riksha, The Good Men Project, Mizna, and The João Roque Literary Journal, while his op-eds have appeared in Scroll and The Wire.