Malliah Memorial Theatre Crafts Museum, currently undergoing renovation, can emerge as a facilitator of exchange between traditional theatre crafts and urban audience

The endeavour of this column is to exhort the public to go and visit our museums. However, it is a little different this time, for we are telling them not to visit Malliah Memorial Theatre Crafts Museum — simply because the museum is under renovation. Listed in Delhi Tourism’s website, nowhere is it mentioned that it is closed to the public until it gets ready. Even if you are from the small tribe of museum lovers, there is always a possibility of landing up there only to be disappointed.

Not unless you go right inside the nondescript building on Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg, do you realise that the museum is undergoing a major overhaul programme.

Established by freedom fighter and crafts revivalist Kamladevi Chattopadhyay, she dedicated the museum to another freedom fighter, Malliah Srinivas. Out of all the museums we have, it has to be the most special one because of its focus on theatre crafts. I have seen people getting astonished and ask “Do we really have a museum dedicated to something called theatre crafts?” Well, visionaries like Kamladevi always thought differently.

Kamladevi, with the assistance of various individuals and organisations like Bhartiya Natya Sangh, built up a splendid collection comprising masks, ornaments, weapons, life-size figurines etc. By including the representations of dance-theatre forms from every part of the country — Kathakali, Yakshagana, Manipuri, Therukoothu, Sahi Jatra, Krishnattam, Ramlila, Nautanki and many more — the indefatigable Kamladevi attempted to create an exhaustive collection.

According to Usha Malik, director of the museum, the highlight of the collection has to be its masks and puppets — string puppets, wood and papier mache glove puppets, string and rod puppets and shadow puppets — which, with other material, have now been stored away to be given a new lease of life. “We have great plans and conservation is the first step towards it. Along with conservation, we are also documenting the material properly. The idea is to become a bridge between the rural arts and urban centres,” explains Usha.

The professionals of National Research Laboratory for Conservation of Cultural Property, Lucknow, (which comes under the Ministry of Culture) have been engaged with the renovation programme for more than a year and can’t give a fixed date for its reopening yet. “While the puppets are not in a bad condition per se, what has caused the maximum damage is dust. I have seen worse off cases and it is not one of them. We stick to the code of ethics prescribed by ICOMCC according to which we can’t alter the original but only restore what’s there and that’s what we are doing,” says Sonia Mallick, an artist and conservationist working on a costume which has to go for darning soon. Usha Malik is hoping to get it up and running by 2016.

Correction

The story titled ‘Change of guard’ which appeared in The Hindu Metro Plus Melange inadvertently mentioned that the curatorial team of United Art Fair (UAF) 2013 comprising Peter Nagy, Alka Pande, Ram Rahman and Meera Menezes would continue with the United Art Fair 2014. UAF 2014 has a new curatorial team and the abovementioned are no longer associated with it. The error is regretted.