Gallery Gitanjali: Panjim Pousada in Goa, India, is currently hosting an exhibit that was the brainchild of R. Benedito Ferrão, assistant professor of English & Asian and Pacific Islander American Studies.

A black and white poster that shows people holding signs in front of a castle
Angela Ferrão Exhibition poster: “The Uninvited” (Design by Fernando Velho)

Titled “The Uninvited” and on display through Dec. 18, it features works by Goan artist Angela Ferrão (no relation) that are the result of a collaboration that has produced, in addition to the exhibit, a printed and digital comic book, “The Uninvited Host: Goa and the Parties not Meant for its People.” It’s the culmination of more than a year’s worth of work, mostly long distance, driven by scholarship and creativity as well as passion.

The project explores a Goa that most tourists don’t see or even wonder about, but that is rich and complex and resilient.

“I teach a class that is about Goan representation in literature, and part of that course is to help students understand contemporary issues in Goa as they come up in literature,” Ferrão explains. “As I always say in my classes, while what I teach is a vehicle for that particular subject — be it film, literature, Asian American studies — it should also give students a larger sense of the world. As they learn about Goa, I think that we also want them to think about Goa as part of a larger host of issues around the world, especially around the environment and tourism. And this is particularly relevant for study abroad programs. On the one hand, you want to be aware of cultural issues, and have that educational bent of mind around issues that you will be studying there, but what are the ethical responsibilities of the traveler?”

The impact of tourism: numbers vs reality

Ferrão has a personal perspective on the effect of tourism on Goa. “This is something that both Angela and I as Goans have seen our communities grapple with, being, as we say in the comic book, the ‘uninvited hosts’ to the tourism industry, which indiscriminately uses resources and is not necessarily an economic benefit.”

Professor R. Benedito Ferrão
Professor R. Benedito Ferrão

“Even though tourism is an employer in Goa, many of the key players are not,” Ferrão continues. “Many of them are not located in Goa. The profits don’t stay in Goa, and they don’t have the same investment as local people do in sustaining culture and environment.”

Ferrão also doesn’t think that the infrastructure is adequate for the needs of residents. “I think all the infrastructure that has been developed has been to promote tourism, not for the local good.”

“Tourism works in the colonial vein. Most of the tourists that occupy Goa are from other parts of India. So I think the Indian tourists, when they come to Goa, don’t consider the fact that there are local people that live there.”

Ferrão sees that disregard to local needs happening in tourist destinations all over the world, not just Goa. “Because Goa has been promoted, it’s very much like the way one would think of Hawaii in the context of the United States, where people forget that it’s got its own history, its own people and traditions and customs, and for whom the land is sacred.”

Choosing the right medium for the message

As with all of his projects, Ferrão looks for formats and venues to deliver his thesis in a way that will be visually powerful as well as informative. He is an award-winning photographer, and he has both experience (curating four exhibitions since 2017) and great success in combining words and images to present a narrative or history—whether curating an exhibit or a publication. An example of his facility with working in multiple media is a special issue of the João Roque Literary Journal he co-edited in  2021 that contained contributions ranging from works on canvas to memoir and short film.

So why for this project did he choose the comic book and exhibition?

“This comes from my own pedagogical impetus to think about ways to use my academic research for “This comes from my own pedagogical impetus to think about ways to use my academic research

An illustration showing a cooked turkey with parts of it designated for different uses
“Carving up the land for pleasure” by Angela Ferrão (2023)

Ferrão also sees students as part of his intended audience.

“I thought that a comic book would be a good resource for students to have as a reference point for contemporary goings on, but it will also be a good resource for our study abroad program in Goa. The comic book will give a sense of things on the ground — to think about the issues of tourism, sustainability and environment not only in Goa, but around the world.”

That said, some habits are hard to break: “When you look at the comic book, you’ll see it actually has footnotes. And the reason for that is because we do cite statistics,” Ferrão admits.

Project management and team building

Ferrão decided on a two-part project: the comic book, printed editions of which will be available for the opening at the gallery in Goa, and a digital version that can be used online by William & Mary students preparing for the W&M faculty-led program to Goa & Bengaluru this summer. He received a Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation (STLI) grant, which mainly goes to support his travel to Goa to prepare and then launch the comic book.

A person sits at a desk and holds a pen in front of a computer
Angela Ferrão (courtesy photo)

Ferrão next began to assemble his team.“I thought of Angela immediately for this project, because not only is she an artist, but she’s also a very socially responsible artist, critic and satirist. I was very aware of her work, and she has spoken to these issues already. So I spoke with Angela first, and I said, ‘Listen, I’ve got this idea for a comic book. Would you be interested in illustrating it?’”

Angela was on board right away.

“Well, it was a no-brainer, really,” Angela recalls. “I didn’t have to think twice about it because I support anything that helps promote more knowledge about how one walks around a place as a tourist. There are people who walk around thinking that [Goa] is just about tourism, and there’s nothing more. I think the book encourages you to explore local history and maybe be a little more empathetic towards Goa.”

The next step for Ferrão was writing the text. “I wrote what is for all intents and purposes an academic essay, but I made it more user-friendly for a comic book interface with shorter paragraphs. I was thinking, what is this going to look like on the page in terms of the bubbles [or speech balloons] or the little inset frames and things like that? It obviously couldn’t look like an academic essay; it would be very off-putting in a comic book.”

Angela then read through the essay and provided the illustrations. “They were entirely of her own devising.”

A page from a comic book showing people holding a basket on a beach
A page from “The Uninvited Host”

Angela approached the artistic challenge as the experienced illustrator she is. “It has to be appealing visually, but it also has to convey the writing, to back up whatever is being said in the writing, so it can’t be abstract or too funny. So it would have to be a medium where it’s funny, but it’s still serious.”

In addition to an illustrator, they needed a designer. The two contacted their friend Maria Vanessa de Sa, an architect, urban designer, and artist, who became the graphic designer of the comic book. That turned out to be the most time-consuming part of the process, as it was mostly done online. “Obviously, it’s Angela’s vision in terms of the images, but we were also working with Vanessa [the graphic designer] with her own input. So when the comic book is published, it’s actually going to have the names of all three of us, because I really think of it as a joint project among the three of us,” Ferrão says.

Angela concurs. “It just came together so beautifully because of Vanessa’s graphic design and the way it flows.  It’s a very good collaborative effort. You’re surprised sometimes because you do the illustration, and you can never imagine how it will be laid out.”

Sharing the work with the public

Ferrão called on a W&M study abroad connection for the mounting of the exhibit. Vishvesh Prabhakar Kandolkar, associate professor of architecture at Goa College of Architecture, is the faculty advisor on the ground for the W&M Goa & Bengaluru program, and he serves as project manager and designer for the exhibition.

“The last time I was in Goa we worked solely on the exhibition, choosing the images that will go in the exhibition and then contacting the gallery — Gallery Gitanjali: Panjim Pousada,” Ferrão recalls. (Another connection with the study abroad program: the gallery is located in the Panjim Inn, where W&M students stay when they’re in Goa.) “The biggest cost was going to be the cost of the gallery, but they are hosting the exhibition. That’s a huge expression of support. It’s a wonderful space and centrally located. I’m really grateful to them.”

A comic book page showing cars on a beach and a tow truck
An illustration by Angela Ferrão

The exhibit is going to have a few items from the comic book as well as some other associated pieces touching on related themes, such as the environment, culture and tradition and activism.

Having a show of this kind of local Goan art is in itself noteworthy.

There are many art festivals in Goa, but they rarely feature the work of Goan artists. As Ferrão notes, “There is no state repository of Goan art in Goa, so one cannot go to an art museum in Goa of Goan art. You could go to a local gallery, or you could go to a one-off exhibition, but there really is no sense of Goan art history. Angela’s work is important in its own right, but it’s also part of a longer tradition amongst Goan artists. And I think having an exhibition is good, but having a printed publication is also very important, because that then works as a more permanent record.”

Interest in the exhibit has been very high, in part because Angela is very well known on social media and in local papers with her activism and her artwork. But the interest is also because it promises to be a unique gathering of artists, academics and activists.   

This project is deeply personal for both Angela and Benedito.

“On the one hand, the issues of tourism and environment are really important to me academically,” Benedito explains. “But even more important to this project is that it’s using the work of a Goan artist to speak to a Goan community, to speak to Goan issues. I think making this an art project is really important, not only in being able to visually demonstrate things so that it opens up how people understand issues, but also as a means to contradict the tourist’s belief that Goa is a place for consumption, without its own unique artistic culture and community.”

Angela has a visceral connection to the place and people. “I lived in Mumbai for most of my life, but I’m Goan, and (Goans) live, breathe and do everything that is connected to Goa and with Goa.”

“I started doing a lot of work related to the environment, and how people view Goa and use Goa to further their own career or creativity — or the lack of, I would say. I’ve read a lot of the works of people like Benedito, about colonization and how it ties in with what is going on and how we are colonized, but we don’t even know it; we don’t know why these things are happening, and why we’re not able to reach our aspirations. It gave me a little more insight into my work.”

Angela sees one of the dividends of the project and the exhibit is to counteract assumptions. “There’s stereotype of Goans that they’re not serious, that they’re just fun-loving and into music. So I’m always hopeful that people like Benedito and this work will help focus on the intellectual community in Goa.  That’s why the collaboration is exciting for me, because I get to work with the people who are in academia and also Goans. And that changes the entire narrative.”

Benedito remarked that working with his colleagues has been one of the best parts of the project. “Angela, Vishvesh and I, and a few other academics and artists of our generation, have circulated in many of the same circles in Goa, but this is our first collaboration.”

A first collaboration, but most likely the first of many. Angela sums up the project for the whole team: “When you see the book it is really something to be proud of.”