I signed up for the CRCH 2011 (Sensitisation workshop towards Conservation and Restoration in Cultural Heritage: Sculptures, Carvings, Paintings and Sculptures) at the Fundação Oriente on an impulse. I was a somewhat recent member of the Goa Heritage Action Group, and getting interested in issues around heritage almost as a natural progression, having relocated to our Panjim heritage house, the Casa da Moeda festival in its third year, and the heritage walks.
We were a motley crew, we delegates: priests, nuns, architects, heritage conservationists, activists, museum curators, college students, and a whole lot of enthusiasts just like me. The workshop was led by Mónica Esteves Reis, but there was considerable input also from Miguel Mateus, a thin, lanky figure who was introduced to us as an experienced conservation-restorer from Portugal and who was engaged in intensive conservation work at the Santa Monica convent in Old Goa.
Mónica and Miguel quickly became friends with many of us at the workshop. As Miguel spent longer lengths of time working in Goa, we became really close. He graciously accepted our invitation to be a speaker at the Casa da Moeda festival 2011, where his presentation, ‘Heritage Interpretation’ shed much light on the work he had done in Europe, and the work he had done and was doing in Old Goa and other cities and towns in India. He had been actively involved in the restoration of the Capela de Nossa Senhora do Monte, Velha Goa (Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount, Old Goa), and the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Esperança (Church of Our Lady of Hope), Vaipim-Cochin. I remember in particular from his presentation the ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures of the restoration work done on some of the paintings of the Viceroys at the ASI Museum, which were such a revelation to all of us.
Miguel was a perfectionist, almost to a fault. He had a very clear idea of what needed to be done, and would get quite frustrated with bureaucracy if he was not given the time or the wherewithal with which to get the work done. So much of conservation work needs to be executed in stages, and lapses or delays can actually undo or even reverse the good work done before it.
He took a personal interest in the repair work of our verandah, and wanted the wooden planks to be water-proofed and made resistant to termites in a certain exact way that unfortunately could not be done to his precise specifications for logistic reasons.
He became a regular visitor to our home, and would swing by whenever he was in the vicinity, either on his own, or with whoever happened to be riding pillion with him on his scooter. I found myself inventing excuses to ‘be in the neighbourhood’ of Old Goa so that I could visit him and watch him at work. He was a workaholic, literally rolling up his sleeves and working meticulously for hours on end, with virtually no break, and talking all the while to explain what he was doing.
He was quite a raconteur, and I would be spellbound, despite my poor knowledge of Portuguese and his incomplete command of English. I remember how he, in his calm yet excited way, related being present at the restoration of the Sistine chapel frescoes, one of the most significant art restorations of the 20th century. This was a man who had seen a lot, and done a lot. His body of expertise and experience was truly impressive, and Goa is fortunate to have had his input. And he in turn gave much value and importance to his work in Goa, in the trajectory of his own career.
But it is Miguel the friend I miss very much. We last met in January 2014, with the understanding that we would see him again this year. I met his charming wife Eveline for the first time then, and remember fondly those meetings.
I first heard that Miguel was seriously ill via a message from Natasha da Costa Fernandes at the Museum of Christian Art. I immediately dashed off an email to Miguel, and got a reply from his wife that the end could be near. And within a matter of days, I heard again from her of his death on 12 June. It has been a shock to us all. He was just 58, and there was so much more he wanted to do, in Goa and beyond. It is a huge loss to heritage conservation. Rest in eternal peace, Miguel.