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Behind the scenes in a museum

The excitement was palpable. After a while, one was going to be a part of an educational, informative session that was to be held at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Byculla.

The two-hour capsule was to focus on conservation, with special focus on metal art. This was meant to act as a direct connect related to the presence of a replica of glorious 10-panelled bronze door built by Italian sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti that belonged to the Baptistry of Florence Cathedral, and was carved in the Florentine Renaissance style.

This stunning door, shipped from Italy, was originally built in the 1400s, and was referred to as the Gates of Heaven by Michelangelo. At the start, we gazed in stunned silence as the session guide explained its importance, and how the model was installed inside the museum over several days.

After marvelling at the finer points of this 17-foot high structure that celebrated various chapters in the Old Testament, we moved on to a fascinating session at the INTACH Conservation Lab that is housed inside the museum. It transported us, the 12-odd participants, into another world, one that is never seen by the public eye.

It chronicled the degeneration and eventual restoration of different pieces of art that were a part of Mumbai’s oldest museum. The meticulous detailing and patience that went into recreating these rare treasures to their past glory was insightful as much as it was jaw-dropping, in some cases.

It was even more applause-worthy if one bears in mind Mumbai’s unforgiving humidity and long monsoon. We watched as staff from the lab went about showing us some truly stunning transformations of brass, silver and iron objects.

Post the session, as one walked past exhibits in the museum, it was possible to understand how elements like silica gel could make significant differences to the life of an ancient relic or a gem from another era. It also drove home the importance and need for more such sessions. Some of us at this walkthrough/ tutorial weren’t experts in museology nor were we curators.

As lay people interested in the art and science of museum studies and conservation, it came across as a refreshing, simple and well-thought out effort to include and invite common people to appreciate and gauge the role of museums in a city and their role in educating generations.

As one scanned the huge central room, the sight of children and adults gazing at the exhibits, with many availing the audio guides, was reassuring. One can hope that it is only a matter of time before such initiatives become more accessible and act as an educative and inclusive tool to bring the masses closer to Mumbai’s museums. A win-win for all concerned, we believe. We can’t wait.

The writer is Features Editor of mid-day

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