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Fonseca, Angelo da - by Savia Viegas

Interview with art historian Savia Viegas about her research on Angelo da Fonseca

by Sravasti Datta

The Hindu, August 5, 2011

Angelo da Fonseca (1902-1967) — a Goan painter who was the pioneer of the Christian cultural Renaissance in India — expressed through his paintings the different movements that captured the imagination of the Indian people during his time. Savia Viegas — writer and art historian — rues that many facts of Fonseca's life and works have been forgotten and that regions are largely underrepresented. Being an art historian and a Goan, Savia considered it her responsibility to revive an understanding of Fonseca's work. She received a grant by the Arts Research and Documentation Programme under India Foundation for the arts (IFA) to pursue her research further.

Savia contends that Fonseca was a forerunner in many ways. “Fonseca pioneered did in his art what the Church tried to bring about in the 1970s, i.e., conducting Mass in vernacular languages. His works had far-reaching ramifications. He worked primarily with religious iconography. He re-structured an entire pantheon of saints, such as The Virgin Mary and child, St. Joseph's etc. by adorning them with working class clothes and features, thereby giving the common man social images they could identify with.” Fonseca's works were not always readily accepted. “The use of principles of religious iconography requires a certain distance from the worshipper and the image of worship; Fonseca worked with several contradictions, made more challenging by the fact that he was a Roman Catholic. I can't verify this fact, but it's believed that the images he drew of Mother Mary bore similar facial features to his wife and wearing a sari as well. The point is can you worship that image?” Savia further explains that portraying Mother Mary in a sari was not accepted socially at that time. “Both the conformist Church and the ruling Portuguese elite had issues with this. One had to wear formal clothes such as coats before entering the city, so, wearing saris wasn't considered socially acceptable by the elite.”

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