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In the current situation, culture is the only hope: Sabyasachi Mukherjee

Updated on: 15 May,2021 03:51 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Anuka Roy |

Mukherjee, director general of Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, speaks to Mid-Day online about his upcoming talk, the unique challenges the pandemic poses, and the museum’s plans to commemorate completing 100 years since its inception

In the current situation, culture is the only hope: Sabyasachi Mukherjee

The bronze bust of Mahatma Gandhi. Pic Courtesy: CSMVS

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) is one of Mumbai’s iconic culture and intellectual hubs. The 99-year-old museum had to shut its doors to visitors last year because of the ongoing pandemic, so the city’s art lovers were jubilant when it reopened this February. Sadly, due to the second wave of Covid-19, the museum is now again shut to visitors. 

Recently, they made their collections – over 50,000 pieces, including sculpture, paintings, natural history specimens and artefacts – available for viewing online. While you can now devour their extensive collection on your laptop, the museum has a lot more to offer.

On the occasion of International Museum Day on May 18, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, director general of CSMVS, will be delivering a talk titled ‘Bust of Gandhi with a Churchill connection’. spoke to Mukherjee about his upcoming lecture, the role of technology in museums, and plans for their centenary year. Excerpts from the interview:

Sabyasachi Mukherjee

What is the concept behind your upcoming lecture, ‘Bust of Gandhi with a Churchill connection’? 

The bronze bust of Mahatma Gandhi has been in the museum for a long time. When we were doing our research, we found out that it had arrived at the museum in 1940. The bust was exhibited in the central foyer, under the dome, during British rule in India. Later, it was sent to the storage area and everyone forgot about it. In 2012, I spotted this sculpture, wrapped and neatly kept in a corner of the storage area.  A brief note on it said: ‘Bronze bust of Mahatma M. K. Gandhi’. ‘Source: Loaned to the Museum by His Excellency, The Viceroy’ ‘Artist: Clare Sheridan’ and the Museum Accession No. 40.4.’ Only this much information was found on the pedestal. 

I was curious to know more about the bust and the artist. A search through the museum records fetched a little more information, which we gathered from different sources. An email from Dr Jonathan Black, who wanted a picture of this bust of Gandhi for his research, was particularly helpful. Sheridan was an English sculptor, journalist and writer. She was known primarily for creating busts for famous sitters and writing diaries recounting her travels. She was a cousin of Winston Churchill, but apparently, they did not have a good relationship; they had contrasting ideologies. How the bust came here and what was the purpose is something I’m going to share during my talk. Sheridan has a fascinating story, and I will cover that in my talk. 

What challenges did CSMVS face during the pandemic?

We are one of the major cultural institutes in the country that is unaided by the government. We are struggling like many other unaided institutes and organisations, but we are managing and overcoming, thanks to the people of Mumbai supporting us. We are waiting for the situation to improve and reopen. When we reopened for a short while in February, we were very surprised to see the overwhelming number of visitors we got. There is a cultural need that people have. In a situation like this, what we are currently going through, I think culture is the only hope. It can transform our consciousness, expand our sense and sensibilities, and sustain the essence of wonder, along with a criticality to perceive the moment we are living in. People have come, and they will return when we reopen. 

In terms of museum work, we are fortunate that there four or five officers, including me, who reside in the campus. We visit the museum every day. Our senior curators come once a week to inspect the collections. Fortunately, the collections were not impacted and the credit goes to our conservation staff and curators. We emptied our galleries and collections were stored in our state-of-the-art storage area, which has a climate control system. 

CSMVS is now open for virtual tours. How do you think technology will impact walk-in museum visitors?

Technology is playing a major role at this point. But when we reopen, when the situation is better, people will definitely come back. They want an organic experience. Right now, they have no option, and that’s why they are choosing the virtual medium. The dependency on technology today and post-pandemic, will be different. However, it is certain that technology is going to play a very important role. 

My anticipation about the post-pandemic situation is that some museums will lean more towards technology and some will maintain the balance between technology and in-person visits. We fall in the latter category. I view technology as a support system and not as something that will dominate us. So, wherever we need technology – to reach out to people and gather information – it is there to help. For example, you cannot truly experience the Ajanta caves, or the Taj Mahal, virtually. You need to be physically present there to truly understand the significance. 

Keeping the future of the museum in mind, we also have plans to establish a digital department. Museums have to change with the times. But the balance will always be maintained.

CSMVS turns 100 next year. What are your celebration plans?

We are completing our 100-year journey on January 10, 2022. There are many events planned – exhibitions, lectures etc. There will be around six to eight major exhibitions. Some of them are international exhibitions. We also have plans to open a new gallery dedicated to ancient world history. It will highlight the Indus Valley civilization and India’s history in relation to the rest of the world, among other things. 

There are also plans for an underground auditorium with a capacity of around 300 people, and a new space for contemporary art. Also, a gallery dedicated to the history of Mumbai is on the agenda.  

Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s talk will be held online on May 18, 5.30 pm. To register, visit

Also Read: Mumbai’s Jehangir Nicholson Gallery celebrates 10 years of being open at CSMVS

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