Online museums are now cropping up on social media, letting you time travel through history with no entry fee
Museums are set in stone, just like their definition. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as, "a building in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest are stored and exhibited." We've had to write down that sentence in an exam sheet at some point. Then came the Internet and the rise of social media — but most importantly — then came Instagram. And we had to do away with textbook definitions because history knows no boundaries. Instagram today comes with a slew of pages documenting archives across borders and timelines. Pages are as specialised as topics of a PhD thesis. South Asian history that is given the silent treatment in school texts, retains its focus. So honestly, a museum trip is just a click away.
Back to Bombay
City historian Deepak Rao's Instagram feed is a warm cuddle with the faint memory of Bombay. The 69-year-old shares pictures of comics and magazines dating back to the 1940s from his personal collection that he says, if measured, would span over 5,000 sq ft.
A 1924 edition of a Bombay travel guide, a men's magazine from 1948
"I enjoy Instagram and my posts aren't controversial. I don't caption them and then I get a lot of people asking me for more details," he shares. When asked if he would be willing to part with his collection, at a curator's behest, Rao agrees. "If it is for a good public cause then why not?"
Not so ordinary
The Museum of Ordinary Objects showcases everyday things attached to a memory, barring the historical significance — a cello, masala bottles, or socks — and is a collaboration between Tram Arts Trust, Harkat Studios and Extensions Arts.
Pencils from pre-Independence India
They began with pop-ups in Delhi and Mumbai, while documenting the same on social media. "In Delhi, we went to Shadipur and hosted a pop-up of objects that weaved together the stories of the local community. We've documented around 800 objects, and are seeking volunteers to help us upload them on Instagram."
Among city museums, the Dr Bhau Daji Lad museum maintains a strong social media presence with daily updates. They have a monthly schedule that is discussed internally, and Tasneem Mehta, honorary director of the museum, says that the primary goal is to increase footfalls.
BDL Museum's #10yearchallenge
"Instagram is a great platform to share stories about the Museum's collection, behind the scenes of exhibition installations, information about our outreach and education activities, videos of curators and staff, and when distinguished visitors speak about the Museum. We have noticed that social media helps bring in new audiences to the programmes hosted here."
Beyond the textbook
In 2017, heritage professional Alisha Sadikot started an Instagram page called Telling Histories that serves as a visual archive and educational resource. Although Sadikot hasn't been actively posting, she hopes to start again soon.
An image of the Bakhshali manuscript shared by Sadikot dates back to the third or fourth century
"I want this to encourage people to relook and relearn. I've noticed that Instagram works as a medium, only because it's not text heavy. So, most people come here looking for stories rather than content," she tells us.
We remember scrolling through The Museum of Material Memory sometime in late 2017 — it felt like an open invitation for tea coupled with an intimate conversation on the diverse histories of India through objects. The submission-based initiative started by Navdha Malhotra and Aanchal Malhotra from Delhi, has crossed a total of 50 stories.
The Children's Dictionary from the 1920's belonging to Saeed Ibrahim
"We have stories from Thrissur, Vadodara, Hyderabad, Bhatinda, and Kurnool, alongside larger cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, as well as from Indian diaspora across the world... The timeframe of objects has also evolved. While we look for objects that pre-date or belong to the 1970's, with time and younger audiences coming forward, we are also writing about those that are as recent as from the 1980's," they say.
Navdha and Aanchal Malhotra
So, how do their older protagonists perceive a digital repository? "More than the final piece, they enjoy being spoken to, talking about their life and showing us different objects... ," they tell us, adding that their future plans also involve an offline presence through pop-ups or a gallery show, but not a permanent space. "An on-site museum would also mean physically obtaining these objects. There isn't an intention to take them away from where they belong. They hold emotional attachments for people; they are a part of their history, where they come from and what actually makes their present — we don't want to take that away."
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