One night at the museum

Over the weekend, a few of us were treated to an insightful lecture at Byculla’s Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum — a venue that has been taking great efforts to bring down celebrated names and iconic collections from the art and cultural space from India and across the globe. Much needed for Mumbai’s cultural calendar.

The BMW Guggenheim Lab recently ended its presentation, where it was open from December 9, 2012 to January 20, 2013. File pic

Back to our evening, the subject at this lecture was the future of ethnographic museums, by Dr Kavita Singh, art historian and Associate Professor at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU. Her repertoire of interests includes the history and politics of museum collections, chronicling the social history of Indian painting, and the application of narrative theory to art. Having attended a two-day workshop on Museum Studies by her, years ago, we were curious to hear more from this well-travelled, balanced voice in the world of Museology.

Dr Singh’s talk deliberated on the dilemmas that ethnographic museums face today, these having been created as a classical, European thought, were now moving away from their original character. She went on to spell out how this model will actually become the future for all museums. We were taken on a world tour of some of the finest museums – The Louvre, The British Museum, New York’s MET, and closer home, to ‘new’ country Singapore’s fine fascinating mix of museums. We were even exposed to the ultra-ambitious Saadiyat Cultural District, Abu Dhabi’s humongous plan, to re-plot the world’s art and cultural map, and not too far behind, our neighbour China’s intent to create 1,000 museums. You read right – One thousand.

Throughout this most engaging session, one’s mind kept getting saddled with thoughts about our museums. Where do we stand amid this global museum revolution where even structures (in several cases) are being promoted as pieces of art, and where the museum is viewed as an instrument for global positioning, a symbol of economic stability and power? It didn’t invite too many positive replies in the head.

While the capital city, and the rest of our metros, to some extent, are managing to infuse new life into our museums with out-of-the-box ideas and with projects and avenues to bring in the youth, we need 360-degree support and backing to be on that world map. And, this change must start from within; engage citizens to make that trip to the museum, and importantly, we in our heads ought to change viewing it as an intimidating space filled with grey-haired scholars, retired folk or PhD hopefuls. The same perception holds for our libraries.

To quote the French social psychologist, sociologist, anthropologist, and inventor, Gustave Le Bon, “If one destroyed in museums and libraries… what would remain of the great dreams of humanity?” Strong words, these but true, nevertheless.

How wonderful it would to have museums that are open for longer hours? It would be an instant draw for the time-strapped, commute-bound Mumbaiite.

Or, what about transforming it into carnival-like space during the holiday season for our school kids to explore its treasures? Or even a pop-up cultural showcase of India’s rare textiles?

The ideas are aplenty. So are the minds keen to put plan into action. Now, for the real deal. We can’t wait.

— The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY 

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