MY PARTICIPATION IN THE ITP TRAINING AND CURATING AN EXHIBITION AT THE BRITISH MUSEUM
“What I hear I forget
What I see I remember
What I do I understand”
Confucius – Chinese Philosopher (551-479 B.C.)
“Knowing is not enough, we must apply; willingness is not enough, we must do”, this philosophy of Johann Goethe is the key to the philosophy followed by the management of the CSMVS. There is a constant urge to keep pace with the world and delivering the best in the given circumstances. Therefore the management offers ample opportunities to the staff for growth and self development. I was fortunate enough to avail one such opportunity which has changed many of my conceptions professionally.
It all actually began in 2011 when I was selected for the International Training Programme (ITP) at the British Museum. The ITP is a fullfledged training programme for museum and heritage professionals. Through this programme, the BM takes initiative to build a global network of colleagues crossing geographical and cultural boundaries, which provides a platform for the participants to exchange ideas and professional skills. It gives an opportunity for mutual learning, discussion and collaboration between museum professionals around the world from very diverse institutions and backgrounds but with one goal – to shape the museums of the future.
There were 22 participants in my batch selected from 11 countries viz. Afghanistan, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Iraq, Kenya, Nigeria, Palestine, Sudan and Turkey.
The six-week programme (20th June – 29th July, 2011) covered a very wide range of museum work. It included collection management, storage and documentation, exhibitions and galleries, conservation and scientific research, national and international loans, object handling, packing, transporting including cargo procedures, learning, audiences and volunteers, fundraising, income generation and commercial programmes, leadership, museum management and security. Besides, every participant was given time in a department relevant to their specific interests and research.
Another important aspect of the programme was the ten-day placement outside London with UK partner museums. It gave opportunities to participants to observe a variety of approaches to museums and their operations. I got an opportunity to interact with Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives. Besides this, the participants were also taken to important museums and public places in and around London. To mention some of them - London landmarks like Manisha Abhay Nene and Joyee Roy talking to Mr. Neil MacGregor at the Patron’s Reception At the mounting Workshop, ITP Visit to Stonehenge Bristol Museum & Art Gallery ITP Team Curator’s Corner Parliament Square, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral, Kenwood House, London Zoo, London eye, London opera, Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, visit to museums in Oxford, Birmingham, Cambridge, Bristol, Brighton, Cardiff, British Library, International Shipping-Cargo Warehouse, prehistoric sites of Stonehenge, Salisbury and Avebury etc. Visit to all these places gave an insight into the working of different types of museums and cultural institutions.
The last day of this training programme was a special day. The participants were asked to develop a proposal for a small temporary exhibition in a space called Room No. 3 at the British Museum. Using knowledge of their own cultures and experiences, the participants were expected to present an exhibition concept based on one or maximum five objects from the BM collection.
It was a real challenge for all the participants because we were assigned only five minutes to resent the whole exhibition concept – design, layout, display, merchandising, conservation issues, educational activities, target audience, events and programmes etc. in front of an experienced audience including the BM Director, Mr. Neil MacGregor, curators of different sections, patrons and sponsors.
I developed a proposal of a small temporary exhibition on the God of wisdom - Ganesha titled Visions of Ganesha. Ganesha is not a symbol of a particular community but represents a vibrant cosmopolitan culture of the city of Mumbai. The ten-day long celebration of the Ganesha festival has great religious as well as socio-economic significance and therefore I decided to present my proposal on this subject.
It was very interesting to go through the presentations of my colleagues based on the culture and history of their region. My presentation was also enjoyed by everyone and to my greatest pleasure Mr. Neil MacGregor, Director, British Museum expressed his desire to have an exhibition at the BM based on my presentation! I was literally on cloud nine at that moment.
The training programme ended on a very emotional note as this was the time to say good bye to all my global colleagues and to the BM. I returned home with an enriched mind and heart full of cheerful memories. Few days later, I received an official invitation from Mr. Neil MacGregor to curate an exhibition based on my presentation. It was indeed an honour to me and my institution.
The exhibition was scheduled for February 2014. I sent the concept note for the exhibition with a rough design and layout. A systematic step-by-step plan was prepared by the BM
exhibition team which was as follows:
• Submission of text labels by the first week of September 2013, before I reach U.K.
• First visit to the British Museum for two weeks to discuss preliminary details of the exhibition which included selection of object, interaction with different departments and personnel of exhibitions such as Interpretation Officer, Designers, Marketing, Education, Media, Conservation and so on.
• Second visit to BM - February 2014 at the time of final installation and opening of the exhibition and deliver public talk based on the exhibition.
I selected a total of four exhibits – 1 stone sculpture and 3 miniature paintings and a print from the Asian Section for this exhibition. It was a real challenge to present the vast subject of Ganesha with just four exhibits and that too keeping in mind the world audience. Therefore, I thought that the subject should be presented in a very direct but interesting way. I planned the exhibition in two sections - first section was related to its context and second was related to the tradition. There were several rounds of discussion for the title of the exhibition. The title had to be attractive as well as self explanatory. Finally the exhibition was named as “From Temple to Home celebrating Ganesha”. Thus the exhibition highlights Ganesha in temples as well as his workshop during the Ganesh festival in public places and homes.
The focus point of the exhibition is a 12th century stone sculpture of Ganesha from Orissa. The first part of the exhibition deals with the origin and iconography of Ganesha and the popular legends. The second part deals with the Ganesha festival celebrations in Mumbai and Pune. The first part is presented with the help of line drawings explaining the iconography and legends of Ganesha. These line drawings were created by CSMVS artists, Ms. Ankita Ghude and Mr. Pratik Aroskar.
The second part of the exhibition emphasizes the Ganesha festival. In this part of the exhibition, I wanted to present the tradition of Ganesha festival celebrated in public as well as in domestic life. I decided to use big blow-ups to create the real atmosphere of the Sarvajanik (public) Ganeshotsava. I also decided to display the home shrine where people install the Ganesha idol for worship during the festival. But it was a real challenge to get the clay image of Ganesha for the shrine. We tried all sources in U.K., but none of them was able to supply the clay image. Therefore, it was I decided to transport it from Mumbai. Two beautiful Ganesha idols made of paper maché and clay were specially commissioned for the exhibition and were sent to BM by cargo in January 2014.
The BM exhibition team contacted the local Hindu community in U.K. who helped them to recreate a beautiful domestic shrine. In this part, it was planned to screen a film on the making of the Ganesha idol and glimpses of the festival. The footages for the film were to be supplied by the CSMVS for them to produce a 3-5 minute film. The work of collecting footage for the film started in April 2013. My colleagues Mr. Dilip Ranade, Ms. Vandana Prapanna and Mr. Pratik Aroskar and I visited Pen, the famous place of Ganesha workshops. Pen is a very small town in Raigad district of Maharashtra, 75 kms away from Mumbai. It produces about 2.5 lakh Ganesha idols every year. Every alternate home here has a Ganesha workshop.
It was peak summer. The temperature on that day was 45C. In spite of all odds, we were able to capture all the required footages. I am thankful to Mr. Shrikant Deodhar and Mr. Anand Deodhar and artisans of Pen for their help and valuable guidance during this visit. The footages for the actual festival were collected during the Ganesha festival in September 2013. Mr. Pratik Aroskar collected extensive footages working day and night. Based on the footages collected, he created a 10 mins. film on the making of Ganesha and the Ganesha festival. The BM editorial team has edited this film to 3 mins. which is screened continuously in the exhibition hall.
The exhibition was informally opened on 27th February, 2014. On 28th of February, I delivered a public lecture highlighting the exhibition and explaining the subject. The lecture was attended by about 200 people.
The exhibition turned out to be a crowd puller. Right from the first day till this day, this exhibition is drawing crowds. Large number of Indians in U.K. are also coming to see the exhibition woven around their beloved god.
The exhibition is on till 25th May, 2014 at the BM. Several activities, programmes, lecture shave been organized to coincide with the exhibition. It will travel to four other museums in U.K. from September 2014 for about a year.
We all at the CSMVS are happy for this opportunity. It’s an honour for me and for my Museum to have this opportunity to curate an exhibition at the BM.
The exhibition is a collaborative effort. Along with the Curator, there are a number of people who worked behind the scenes to make it successful. I would like to thank all who have helped greatly in this project. First and foremost, I am thankful to the Director General, Mr. S. Mukherjee and the Trustees of my Museum for giving me this opportunity. I would like to specially thank the Charles Wallace India Trust who sponsored my visit to ITP in 2011. I am also thankful to Mr.Neil MacGregor, Director, BM and the Trustees of BM for selecting me for this project. I am grateful to Ms. Claire Messenger, Ms. Shezza Rashwan, Mr. Neil Spencer at BM for their encouragement, guidance and support. I am also obliged to Dr. Richard Blurton of Asian Section for his valuable guidance. I am thankful to the entire exhibition team of Room No. 3 for executing my ideas of the exhibition. Last but not least, I am grateful to Mr. Andrew Shapland for co-ordinating the entire project. I am grateful to my collegues, Mr. Dilip Ranade and Ms. Vandana Prapanna for their encouragement and guidance. I would specially like to thank my colleague, Mr. Pratik Aroskar who has really toiled for collecting data for the film. I am also thankful to Ms. Ankita Ghude who created the beautiful drawings for the exhibition. My thanks to Mr. Ajay Kochle and the entire administrative office and Ms. Smita Parte, Ms. Nancy Fernandes and Mr. Siddharth Waingankar who have worked in different aspects of the exhibition. My thanks also to Behroze Bilimoria for her help in this project.
The success of any programme is in the legacy projects and sustainability. The ITP alumni has now total 162 participants from 24 countries over the last six years. Every year, exhibition proposals are presented as part of the training programme. I am proud that my exhibition is the first of the legacy projects representing the sustainability of ITP. It’s the blessing of Lord Ganesha that I got this unique opportunity.
Manisha A. Nene
Asstt. Director (Gallery)
THE MAKING OF THE PRINTS GALLERY
- Vaidehi Savnal, Coordinator
‘Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.’
- Pablo Picasso
And it was with a plan in hand that the CSMVS embarked upon creating Mumbai’s first permanent prints gallery. With a strong desire to enlighten the people of the city and society in general to various forms of art from across the world, the Museum has strived to do so using interactive approaches in order to familiarize the viewer with art in all its facets. Given its large collection of prints, numbering nearly 250, the need for a permanent gallery dedicated to displaying prints of different techniques was felt. Of these, a sizable number of prints were gifted to the Museum, and some on a long term loan by Pauline and Roy Rohatgi and Pheroza and Jamshyd Godrej.
The first floor corridor of the main building leading to the east wing was selected as the space for this gallery. On a regular day this corridor is a busy thoroughfare, flooded with natural light through arched windows. Transforming this essential passage into a viewing gallery for visitors, posed a particular challenge given the Grade - I status of the heritage building. These challenges then served as the very basis for the design that was conceptualized by Mr. Saurabh Sharma, Soku Design Corp, New Delhi and Mr. Oroon Das, Graphic Designer.
- The corridor was along the front façade of the building due to which sunlight would stream in through the windows along the outer wall, falling directly on the walls on which the prints would be displayed. A cause for concern, as the prints made on paper are susceptible to rapid deterioration as increased exposure to higher levels of light cause the bonds in the fibre of the paper support to deteriorate.
- This corridor also worked as the only source of natural ventilation to the rest of the galleries that lay behind it, as fresh air would flow through the arched windows on both sides of the corridor.
- The corridor being a thoroughfare, needed to allow for the free movement of visitors, especially large groups of children and wheelchair users. This meant that any display surfaces would need to be along either wall or in a manner along the centre that did not impede visitor movement. At the same time, sufficient area was required to display the prints.
Therefore, a solution was needed, one which would decrease the amount of sunlight falling directly on the walls, without significantly reducing the ambient light or natural ventilation.
After a series of meetings between the Museum staff and the designers, a plan was submitted by the design team that incorporated the basic elements that were required. An introduction area would open out into the main display area. The education space would be in the ante - chamber just on the other side of the gallery.
The Viewing Corridor
- Glass panels against the walls and additionally, along a central isle, that would optimize display area within the narrow corridor while intervening minimally with the textural quality of old walls. Copper - finished fixtures would keep with the heritage identity of the space.
- Louvers on the open, external windows would work towards cutting direct light while allowing air passage. Ceiling mounted channel lights would then allow requisite calibration of light focused on the displayed works.
- Wood – finished, laser – cut patterns inspired by the stone jalis found within the building, would cut light from existing apertures closed by glass, above and below the windows, while lending the gallery a distinctive spatial identity.
- Antique – gold finished frames would be designed to singularly highlight the encased artworks.
The Interactive Education Space
With the help of an AV screen and information panels, this area would introduce the viewers to a brief history of print – making. The evolution of print – making techniques on a graphically rendered timeline and a display of a Printmaker’s tool box would go alongside a counter where visitors could try their hand at print making using a modified modern print machine. The visitors could take these prints that they made themselves home, as a keepsake.
Given the large number of prints in the Museum’s collection, a decision to display them on rotation was taken. The curatorial team worked with different themes until they narrowed down on what seemed most relevant for the first exhibition of the first prints gallery in the city, ‘Bombay’. The first exhibition titled ‘Bombay to Mumbai: Door of the East with its Face to the West’ incorporated 47 prints selected by Pauline Rohatgi and Pheroza Godrej. These prints depict Bombay as perceived by European travellers of the period who were enthralled by the local inhabitants, magnificent buildings, monuments and diverse landscapes. Prints of various techniques were selected – coloured engravings, line engravings and etchings, aquatints and lithographs.
Timeline of Work
Textile Gallery - A Curtain Raiser
Manisha Nene, Assistant Director (Gallery)
Fifteen years ago the Textile Gallery at our Museum was closed due to conservation reasons. The entire collection was then shifted to a climate controlled storage area.
A long standing desire and dream of the management to bring out the exclusive textile collection of the museum on display was finally realised with the grant from the Ministry of Culture, Government of India under the Metro Museum modernization plan Phase I.
In 2002 when the extension wing of the museum building was renovated during the tenure of Dr. Kalpana Desai, former Director of the Museum, a hall of about 3000 sq. ft was allotted for the textile gallery on the second floor of the east wing. Between the years 2002 to 2012, the hall was used as a mere godown storing old office furniture, showcases, exhibition panels and many such things. It was a challenge for us to vacate this area to realise our plan to set up a textile gallery. But with proper planning and decisions we were able to vacate the hall in two weeks.
The planning of the textile gallery started in the year 2012. The curatorial team comprising Vandana Prapanna, Renu Jathar and I started thinking about ways to put together such a myriad collection and present it interestingly before our visitors!
We had several brain storming sessions to discuss various possibilities. First we had thought of displaying the collection regionally which is a common practice. That was not bad as an idea but our collection has many gaps and does not represent all regional textiles in India. We also felt that it would be insignificant and too dry an approach for a subject as vibrant, colourful and varied as textiles. Other common ways to display textiles are, classifying them according to chronology, material and technique. Nothing however was convincing. During our discussions we were looking at various aspects of textile and its role in human life. As humans we have a deep and emotional connection with textiles; in fact they are our companions from birth to death, almost our second skin. Our philosophical inclination in the discussion reminded us about Kabir, the great mystic saint of the 16th century. A weaver by profession, he brilliantly composed many dohas (couplets) on the relationship of man with the Almighty. In one of his famous compositions ‘zhini zhini chadariya’ he beautifully juxtaposed the threads of life and cloth and compared the birth of a textile with the birth of a human being.
In our discussion, we also discussed many abhangas, folk songs and even film songs describing textiles. It reminded us of one very beautiful poem of Shri G.D. Madgulkar ‘Ek dhaga sukhacha, shambhar dhage dukkache, jartari he vastra manasa tuziya ayushyache…..’ (here the poet compares man’s life with a brocade cloth having one thread of happiness and hundred threads of sorrow). Suddenly we had a brain wave! We thought without mentioning much about the technicality of the subject, we could display textiles highlighting their role in our life and how as a non verbal medium they turn out to be a strong icon to express our personality and social status! We decided to adhere to this idea and that’s how the idea of our first and major section ‘Passage of Life’ was conceived. We decided to devote the other section of the gallery to various themes like exclusive textiles, elements, special features and an interactive section for visitors.
Meanwhile our project office headed by Mr Shriniwas Prasad under the guidance of Mr Ajay Kochle, Assistant Director (Administration) was busy in various processes of appointing the designer for the project. After going through the presentations based on the requirements of the curatorial team, leading designers shared their ideas on the proposed textile gallery. M/s. Somaya and Kalappa headed by Mrs Brinda Somaya were selected for the same for their innovative and space specific plan. The Curatorial team had a detailed discussion with the designer’s team. The designers had an area of 3000 sq feet to transform. They submitted their detailed plan specifying the showcase design and the circulation path. The design was approved with minor corrections and the work started in March 2014. All the Government procedure was followed in the appointment of contractors for furniture, electric wiring and supply of light fittings.
So now we had a theme, a goal. But a goal without a plan is just a wish. We wanted to fulfill the wish. So we prepared a plan of action.
As a first step, the idea was placed before the Director General of the Museum, Mr Sabyasachi Mukherjee. Keeping the soul of the proposal intact he gave some very valuable inputs which enhanced the overall project.
After getting the final approval of the theme from the management, we started work on the textile gallery in the following manner:
Textiles were selected thematically. It was a very time consuming process. Our textile conservator Ms. Shobha Kadam patiently and enthusiastically handled this process of selection. For assessing the physical condition of the selected textiles we consulted Mr. Anupam Sah, Conservation Consultant. He prepared a plan of action for the conservation of textiles. Most of the textiles required strengthening by giving lining of a support fabric, complete or strip lining and darning (rafu) etc. Mr. Sah and his entire team have worked very hard and have completed most of the conservation work of the selected textiles.
- Padded support mounts and mannequins, cylindrical rolls and stretchers to display large textiles and other display accessories like acrylic stands, hangers, screws, pedestals etc were specially designed by our young designer team Siddharth Waingankar and Pratik Aroskar in consultation with Mr. Dilip Ranade, Exhibition Consultant.
- Many of the mannequins were prepared in-house by our very talented technical staff, carpenters and gallery attendants under the guidance of Mr. Ashok Sakpal. Some of the mannequins were purchased from the market and altered to our specifications.
- It is a known fact that lighting plays an important role in the display. The success or failure of an exhibition depends hugely on proper lighting arrangement. Secondly, textiles are very sensitive to light and require very thoughtful efforts and planning for light arrangement. Controlled lux level, UV and IR rays with proper colour rendering are some of the important issues to be looked into. While taking care of all these technicalities we did not want our visitor to miss out on any of the details in the textiles and wanted to provide them with a maximum visual experience. Keeping in mind all the factors, we decided to do the lighting design in-house. The challenge was readily accepted by our young exhibition assistant Prateek Aroskar. It was a difficult task but now with the gallery ready for installation, we are happy with our decision.
The graphics and labels are an equally important aspect of an exhibition, a medium to communicate with the visitors. It was difficult to sum up a subject as vast as textiles in just a few words. We decided to have two levels for the text information - captions describing the technical aspect and the section labels dealing with the main theme. There is added information in the form of motif frames and in the two documentaries, one purely dealing with techniques of various textiles and another on the main theme of the gallery, the role of textiles in the passage of life. They are respectively directed by Dinesh Lakhanpal and Angna Jhaveri. Both documenteries are produced by the museum with the generous support of the Ministry of Culture, Government of India.
- In our journey, many people have helped us to reach our destination. Praful Shah and Shilpa Shah have not only generously supported us by a donation, but also by loaning several textiles from the TAPI collection to this Gallery.
- There are several individuals who have gifted their valuable heirloom textiles especially for this Gallery. Some of them are Shirin Sabavala, Late Indu Nene, Usha Shah, Usha Seth, Arti Mehta and Devangana Desai.
- To bring in an emotional appeal to this gallery we decided to collect old photographs of people in their traditional textiles, performing some ritual or casual ones. Old photographs of our ancestors are a very strong verbal medium to convey the tradition, ethos and emotions of a particular society or community. We decided to reach out to the people, friends and relatives through personal contacts and via the social media of Facebook. Allan Oscar who is our social media developer helped us in reaching out to people through Facebook. One day on a dull afternoon when we were busy completing our routine work, Divya our curatorial assistant came running to us and informed us that Mr Imran Ali Khan had responded to our appeal on Facebook and expressed his happiness to share his family photographs taken by Raja Dindayal! We literally jumped out of our seats with excitement. Mr Khan belonged to a noble class family of Hyderabad. His family photographs provided a very important visual material for our gallery and documentary film. Then one day our Museum Society members, Dr. Vijaya Gupchup expressed her desire to share her family photographs with the Museum. When Divya went to her residence with our office photographer one large frame immediately captured her attention. The frame has preserved an heirloom kunchi (child’s cap) along with the photos of its proud users. The kunchi was almost 100 years old.
Similarly, old photographs of near and dear ones also started pouring in from our staff members. We were overwhelmed to see their interest in the project.
We are grateful to all who decided to walk with us on our journey of the textile gallery. The climate controlled gallery is now ready for installation and is expected to open in May 2015. The journey is still on and we urge people to join us at their convenience and will.