In this unique space in Panjim, hand-painted ceramic tiles are a testament to one man’s passion for preserving a piece of history.
Orlando de Noronha went to Portugal in 1997 to learn to play the Portuguese guitar. A year later, he returned armed with the knowledge of tile making. Now, 25 years later, Azulejos de Goa de Noronha plays an important role in preserving this dying art of hand-painted ceramic tiles.
The origins are contradictory: some say it came from the Spanish moors, others say it evolved from ceramic tile decorations in Persia, before moving to Spain. Nevertheless, it was the Portuguese who brought the art to its colonies, popularizing the ubiquitous blue color. The art has found much favor in Goa.
In 1998, he caught the attention of this young musician from Goa in Portugal. Noronha is a Fine Arts graduate, but it was his love for music – particularly the Portuguese guitar, a pear-shaped string instrument associated with the musical genre of Fado – that prompted him to apply for a scholarship in Portugal. . The Fundação Oriente gave him a Portuguese language and culture scholarship (music was not an option) and he moved to Coimbra, Portugal for a year. In his spare time, he started learning the Coimbra style of Portuguese guitar.
At the time, Noronha was living with a Goa family whose dining room had a portrait of a guitarist done on azulejos. “I have always admired him. One day, I asked my host about his origins. He took me to the artist, Fernando Martins, who saw that I had an interest in art and invited me to learn,” he says.
Although Martins agreed to teach, getting to the artists’ house was difficult, and Noronha had only four months left of his scholarship. He always absorbed what he could, returning with a portrait of then-girlfriend, now wife, Tina, coasters with the names of family members; a tiled panel of four was given to his Portuguese guitar teacher.
Upon returning to India, Noronha decided to pursue tile making as a profession. “I wasn’t directly linked to art because my job was advertising, but I fell in love with it. I thought ‘there are too many people doing advertising in the world, why not pursue this art and bring it back to Goa’, he recalls. It was a big risk. He had no oven, colors or space to create this art, and it was hard to get people interested.
One of Noronha’s parting gifts from Portugal was a book on azulejos, Azulejos Arte e História, which he would carry with him as a representation of what he could do. “I would show the book to people and say, this is what can be done. I didn’t have a wallet, so people didn’t want to take the risk,” he explains. To solve this problem, he started painting nameplates for his friends and family, building his portfolio.
In 1999 came the big break for Noronha and Azulejos de Goa. The next Taj Exotica needed azulejos – the architect wanted a mural at the main entrance. He sketched a panel of Fontainhas and his art was immediately approved.
He worked from home, in a small studio built under a flight of stairs in his house in Panjim, with only one artist to help him. He painted the tiles at home, then transported them in two wooden crates – 15 tiles each – to his kiln in the industrial area of Thivim. “I started taking them on a bus, initially, or taking a lift, but that was wasting a lot of time and wasn’t a reliable way to get to and from. Tina had a Scooty, so I was packing the two boxes on it and I was going to Thivim,” laughs Noronha, adding, “It’s good when you get there the hard way like that, because you learn to value things.
By then, orders had started coming in: Club Mahindra, Grand Intercontinental, Hotel Fidalgo, etc. Taj Exotica also wanted him to design the tiles for their swimming pool – he did the main art and they had the tiles mass produced in Mumbai. At the time, Noronha focused on large projects, signs and murals, for hotel clients and even private homes across India.
Over time, he began to receive requests for small souvenirs. Initially hesitant to try making tiles under six inches, his “why not” attitude won out. Today, these small tile memorabilia that largely depict Goan life and nameplates fuel much of his business.
Over time, Noronha’s gallery moved from under the stairs to one room before moving to its current space in the other wing of the house three years ago. When Noronha started her job, part of the house was rented out. When the arrangement ended a few years ago, he decided to use the space for another passion project.
“Our family has always been linked to Portuguese culture. My older brother, Óscar de Noronha, founded a publishing house, Third Millennium, which published in Portuguese, Konkani and English. I was related to ceramics and I love Fado and Mandó. Coincidentally, Tina is a good cook. When this space opened, I thought of creating an Indo-Portuguese arts center where we could preserve these four art forms: literary arts, ceramics, music and cuisine,” he says.
The Center for Indo-Portuguese Arts (CIPA), which was established on July 24, 2019. It now includes Azulejos de Goa; Third Millennium Publishers; Noronha Associates, which manufactures custom tableware; Renascença Goa — a monthly talk show in Portuguese; Madragoa or the home of Fado and Mandó; and Cháfé Braz – a small café serving Indo-Portuguese cuisine. An extension of Cháfé Braz involves live jazz concerts, some involving legendary musician Braz Gonsalves, after whom the venue is named.
Noronha’s house dates back over 200 years and is on a main road in Panjim, overlooking the Mandovi River (now littered with casinos). A wide stone staircase leads to a landing occupied by a mural depicting a vase of flowers, which is one of Orlando’s earliest creations. Part of the house serves as a residence; the other houses the CIPA.
Azulejos de Goa occupies a room at CIPA and is full of de Noronha’s work, from larger panels to smaller tiles (the smallest is 2″ x 2″). There is a wall dedicated to some prints by Mario Miranda (10 in total and taken with the late artist’s permission). Some tiles are framed, others rest on a small stand, still others hang on the wall or look through tiny replica Goan oyster shell windows.
There is a subtle but noticeable distinction between hand painted tiles and digital prints – the former has bright colors. Today, Azulejos de Goa has five kilns, a studio in St Inez and mainly sells name plates and small souvenirs. Tina also introduced jewelry, bracelets, rings and more. “We tried to incorporate azulejo designs or Goa-related designs into every item we could, from tables, stools and trays to jewelry,” says Noronha.
It’s hard to accept panel work these days. “I have coffee and fado and shows and I can’t dedicate the necessary time to azulejos. I want to enjoy this work and not let it become a stress,” he says. “It’s not just about selling tiles. These are some of the things I loved to do; it’s my life,” he smiles.
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Address: 7/2, DB Avenue, opposite Captain of Ports Jetty, Panjim | Prices: Start at Rs 275 per tile | Website: Click here.
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