Making museums vibrant in India


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Uday Deb
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Museums are a peek into the history of a country, and in our case they are a reflection of one of the richest cultures of the world. Our national and state museums have a rich repository but suffer from extremely inept outreach facilities. The fabulous collection of artefacts in most Indian museums is undermined by bad presentation. Most of them look like warehouses displaying almost all of their collection. This not only kills the novelty of visiting the museum over and over again but also creates a stagnant exposure. What one must have seen as a child remains there forever, and thus the incentive to revisit it is almost negligible. Though some museums are catching up but there is still a lot to be done.

In another blow to novelty, exhibitions in Indian museums are a rare phenomenon. Curated and thematic exhibitions are a huge draw for visitors in museums all over the world but in India we have not utilised this opportunity to its full extent. This has limited our outreach and visitor engagement. Exhibitions attract fresh visitors to the museum which is an inspiration to reach out to more interested persons. In these Covid times, many museums have launched globally accessible virtual exhibitions. Unfortunately, Indian museums have not been able to tap this resource because of low social media presence and an inability to foster a culture of innovation.

Another missing initiative in our museums is hosting exhibits from other museums.

An exchange of exhibits from museums within the country could result in a great boost to the attractiveness of visiting museums. Moreover, it would be enriching to see the exhibition from say the Umaid Bhawan palace at the Madras museum. Cultural interchange between regions with such diverse audiences would be, if nothing else, a great learning experience. If paintings from Raja Ravi Varma museum travelled to the Ajmer museum and miniatures from there travelled to Kerala, it would expose a multitude of citizens to the great diversity of our nation, something which till now, they have only learnt about in textbooks. These are the threads of the web which will bind the country together and encourage cultural understanding of people who live so close and yet are so far away. Not only will knowledge be facilitated, but vast audiences will be enamoured by art, irrespective of boundaries.

A very recent phenomenon in the Indian museum environment has been to create new buildings, to signify a change in the thought process of a museum from being a place where art is interpreted as well as displayed, to simply being a display centre. In my opinion, remodelling old buildings is a more sustainable way forward. Of course, heritage buildings are difficult to remodel, but unlike new buildings, they have a character of their own and there is no better way to use them but as a museum.. Instead of creating new structures entirely, it would be more environmentally-sustainable and culturally-appropriate to simply remodel old buildings to create better facilities, climate control systems, storage space etc . A balance between old and new is imperative.

In Uttarakhand, in the absence of a state museum, we have seen the appearance of small private museums. Though there are a couple of institution- owned museums like the Oil museum at ONGC, small museums at FRI, Wadia Institute, private museums like the SOHAM Heritage and Art Centre, Mussoorie, the Tribal Heritage Museum in Munsyari, the Lok Sanskriti Sangrahalaya of Padma Shri Yashodhar Mathpal at Bhimtal are a few which come instantly to mind. These are individual initiatives of collectors who have followed their passion with no government support. More such museums need to be nurtured to showcase the rich cultural heritage of the state. We need to have many more thematic museums, museums of apian, museums of utensil, museum of pahari paintings, museum of folklore etc — the list is very long. Investment in cultural education is a long-term gain and this should be understood.

Since mobility for most rural folk is still an issue, it may be a good idea to have several museums-on-wheels. This will make people identify with their art forms and in the process also document them for Gen Next.

Year after year, we celebrate international Museum Day on May 20 and think of new possibilities to make our museums more relevant. The pandemic, in spite of its many negatives, has opened up the world of virtual presentations which should be explored by museums to reach out to a larger audience. Museum managers need to look at the current environment and realise that today’s visitor is a creature of the social media age with vast exposure. Indian museums thus need to tailor themselves accordingly to remain relevant to the present times.

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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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