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Goa’s culture on a ceramic platter

Marcou Artifacts’ rich collection of ceramic items celebrates Goa’s diverse culture, writes MICHAEL FISHER

In one of Fontainhas’ narrow by-lanes is a roadside glass display store where Goa’s culture comes alive. To the untrained eye, a cornucopia of our state’s past and present has been recreated in ceramic at Marcou Artifacts. To many visiting academicians, it is a museum depicting 450 years of Goa’s cultural heritage in its many hues.

These Goa-centric artefacts handcrafted in ceramics look like curios to ogle at before buying. But to architects and interior designers, they mean much more. Ceramic artefacts are the latest trend in home decor in the real estate housing market.

Marcou’s amazing array of artefacts basically represents every aspect and statement of Goa. The ceramic plate, which is nearly 14 inches in diameter, was used for serving stuffed chicken or piggling. It has an exquisite painted stained blue decoration on the surface.

Abstract wall artefacts (murals) can be customised according to individual taste, says Marcou Artifacts’ partner Francisco Martins. The shape and size can be altered as per choice and it can be a great gift for a house warming ceremony.  Interior designers choose handmade abstract wall artefacts to decorate walls in restaurants, lobbies or hotel receptions. Handmade ‘azulejos’ are also customised and personalised to suit individual requirements, Martins explains. Home decor artifacts are preferred by NRIs for their second homes.

The artefacts trace the culturally rich lands in Goa – coastal sea shores, temples and churches, etc. Ceramics were only one component in a much larger pulse of the cultural influence emanating from Portugal.

The Bambolim Cross is placed at the entrance of a new villa while the 12-inch tall rooster is perched on the roof top keeping a watch and the two 14-inch tall postman or soldiers on the gate post guards the villa. The miracle crab with a cross is placed near the pond in the garden.

Decorating the walls of the dining room are cashew feni bottles, shell fish like seahorses, muscles and a big-sized sea shell, not forgetting the lobster and crab on the Portuguese plate. In the corners of the living room is the banyan tree on a high stool. Under the portrait of an ancestor in the living room is a huge three feet oval-shaped vase with the design of 16th century Goa embellished with Kunbi women, florals and scenic designs. There are also candle holders, nameplates in azulejos, and on order Lord Ganeshas are also crafted, the list goes on.

Five years ago, Marcou was conceptualised by two childhood friends – Anil Counto, chairman and managing director of Alcon Group, and Martins popularly known as Fanquito for his festival of ideas. Both are executive members of Semana De Cultura Indo-Portuguesa which comprises seven institutions.

A committee formed by them visited Portugal and its several factories manufacturing and designing azulejos and ceramic artefacts. Borrowing Portuguese technology, they returned to Goa and within one month took up the work of setting up a factory on a 1,000 sqm plot at Corlim Industrial Estate.

After they built a research and development division, the first ceramic artifact product to roll out was the Mangeshi Temple of Ponda which was an instant hit. This was followed by 1,000 pieces of Goa heritage all in ceramic.

The manufacture of ceramic artefacts requires an intricate knowledge of a complex technology, says Counto. Pottery-making is foremost an understanding of the material and its properties and the control of its modification through the application of heat.

He said it is believed in those days ceramic pots served many purposes, but the most important was surely the preparation and cooking of food. As they were drawn to the warm fire of a hearth, people would regularly gather around the pot to share not only food but also stories and information, laughter and sorrow. If only these Marcou pots could speak, what stories they would tell, he says laughingly along with Martins.

Goa’s former Governor Bharat Vir Wanchoo  had visited the Marcou showroom several times and in fact at his request they have manufactured ‘Azuelos’ of Goa Raj Bhavan for him to give as gifts to his guests.

Rajasthan Chief Minister has invited Marcou to set up a similar retail store in Rajasthan, for which Counto and Martins is contemplating. Visitors from Portugal, UK and the Middle East are regular buyers, and even other popular personalities like Ritu Beri.

The artefacts are reasonably priced from Rs 150 to Rs 12,000 and a choice of 280 items are on display. A masterpiece of the 14 Stations of the Cross with each station measuring from 4 feet and 5 feet by 7 and a half feet height is being manufactured for the Tivim church.

Five years ago, Marcou had invested a little over one crore rupees and is now seeing its fruits bearing. The eighteen Goan workers it had employed when they started are still with them.

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