A slice of Santiniketan in Colaba
A seamless interplay between nature, art and culture comes to life at CSMVS's Children's Museum that opens its doors later this month. Its director, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, gives us an exclusive curated walkthrough
As a young boy growing up in Santiniketan, I was weak in mathematics. So, my maternal aunt taught me addition and subtraction using the leaves of the imli tree, and it worked," chuckles Sabyasachi Mukherjee, director general, Chhatrapati Shivaji Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), recalling his tryst with numerophobia.
The modern glasshouse structure co-exists with the old museum building
"Many decades later, when I realised that my daughter was also weak in the subject, I used the same technique and in the process introduced her to the flora of this city. History was repeating itself but it also reminded me that the city has no spaces for children," he tells us as we settle down in the spanking new office space of the CSMVS Children's Museum.
A circular stone seating has been created around the iconic and century-old baobab tree near the Children's Museum
Supported by Bank of America, the space had a soft launch over the weekend, and will throw open its programming calendar to the public later this month. This dream to create a museum with children as its curators, has been on Mukherjee's mind for nearly seven years. But with dreams come obstacles. "The space used to be a dump for the museum. When Rahul [Mehrotra, its architect] and I were discussing this idea back in 2014-15, it seemed like a challenge. We had three iconic trees - palm, jackfruit and mango right in the middle of the space - that we didn't wish to destroy.
A terracota panel depicts daily life in a village in India portrayed through its children. Mukherjee spotted this craftsman when he was displaying his works at an exhibition at Coomaraswamy Hal inside CSMVS, and requested him to create a special panel for the Children’s Museum.
Beast Friends, a polychrome wood creation from Gujarat was selected by one of the young curators because it showed a friendship between man and animal since the animal seemed to be well looked after by his master.
Earth For All, a Gond painting by Venkat Raman Singh Shyam, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, 21st century
To work around it meant having to raise expenditure, he warned. Luckily, our trustees were enlightened enough to realise the importance of [protecting] the environment, and gave his plan the nod. Once Bank of America came on board, we were ready for the challenge to give back to the city's children," he says, adding how the heritage committee also understood the importance of such creative spaces, where the old (original museum building) and the new (children's museum) should be allowed to co-exist. "Yet, the process took long due to 20 to 25 approvals and permissions that were required. "Next, we had to discuss the idea with school principals, educationists and influencers. It was important for us to ensure that the space invited the 'aah' factor from children across ages."
Sabyasachi Mukherjee points out to the pattachitra painting by Anvar Chitrakar that depicts the wrath of the tsunami
Looking around at the glasshouse that defies the typical brick-and-mortar template of a conventional museum, we feel it might just be a magical wonderland. From polychrome wood exhibits made in Gujarat to a miniature Tibetan lama collection and a bronze art tableau of dancers from Bastar, the young curators have done a fine job of defining their idea of a museum.
Bilwa Kulkarni, Education Officer, CSMVS
"In a closed-in space, there is very little engagement. But here, the glass walls will help children engage with the flora and fauna around them, apart from watching the displays within," he elaborates. "You can actually get a slice of Santiniketan," he says with a twinkle in his eye.
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