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`Time we tuned in to culture'

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MUSEUM MATTERS Feroze Gujral (left) discusses the importance of preserving and promoting traditions with Sunita Kohli
MUSEUM MATTERS Feroze Gujral (left) discusses the importance of preserving and promoting traditions with Sunita Kohli

FEROZE GUJRAL and SUNITA KOHLI speak about making art accessible to all

With the MTV culture threatening to swamp all traces of indigenous identity, there is concern in many quarters about establishing an Indian identity. There is also a dearth of documented information about performing arts, craft, music and literary traditions in the country. Two people are keen to change the trend. Sunita Kohli is one of them. She was awarded a Padmashri for her contribution to interior design and restoration, and is one of the authors of "Architecture and Planning of New Delhi". She is now founder and chairperson of the Museum of Women in the Arts, India. Feroze Gujral is the other. She is a former super model who is now involved in the museum movement, mobilising funds and corporate support. She is active in campaigns for cancer awareness and various other welfare projects. She is also the daughter-in-law of renowned artists Satish and Kiran Gujral. They speak about the importance of preserving and promoting art and culture and making it accessible to all. PANKAJA SRINIVASAN listened in.Sunita: The idea for this museum was serendipitous. I am a `professional' museum visitor and happened to visit The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington. I met its founder Wilhelmina Cole Holladay, an American art collector and patron. And that was the beginning of the Indian chapter of the museum.Feroze: That's great because we lack a sense of heritage. And we do not have enough opportunities to savour our own music, dance and art. Cultural events are usually held abroad or as part of diplomatic gatherings that are accessible to only a few people. That's why a sea of people gathers whenever the odd event happens. What you are doing should change that, hopefully. Sunita: It is not `me'. It is all of us. You are doing so much too. The best thing about this movement is that the people involved are in their 50s, 40s, 30s and even 20s. It gives a wider perspective. It is not only about recording history. It is also to honour women artistes of the past, promote the accomplishments of women artistes in the present and assure them a place in the future. We must create a point of reference for our culture.Feroze: That's where I feel we are lacking. There is no existing benchmark of excellence. There used to be art reviews and music reviews, but there is not much of that happening. Sunita: There aren't too many great critics.Feroze: Forget about `great'. Even just informed opinion on art or music is hard to come by. Often, it is just an individual's opinion. And, there is no background information on the artistes, their gurus or the traditions they come from. Sometimes, when foreigners ask us questions about our culture, we are stumped, because we have never learnt enough about it. Sunita: This is where the electronic media can come in. More cultural programmes should be telecast. It's time we tune in to culture. Since youngsters watch television all the time, they should make use of this medium. That is why, at the launch of the Chennai Chapter of the museum, along with DakshinaChitra, dancers gave lecture demonstrations and they were documented. So, we have a short film on Bharatanatyam. It is all being done under the aegis of Malavika Sarukkai. Feroze: You should sell it to a good television channel. And, I feel youngsters will watch such programmes if they are done well and packaged right.Sunita: I am very optimistic about the younger generation. In our time, things were a lot more austere and we were all desperately trying to be Western. Not so today.Feroze: I feel the younger generation is proud to be Indian. They revel in their identity. When asked to wear formal attire, my son, who is studying in England, insisted he wanted a bandh gala and not a suit! And, of course, he makes it a point to keep his class supplied with sonpapdi! Sunita: We have to instil that `Indianness' in our youngsters. For example, I am in the process of writing a book, with my grandchildren, onDelhi's monuments. They have visited the monuments and drawn sketches. Feroze: Interesting. I also make it a point to take my daughter to a music concert, a dance performance or an art show as often as I can. And, the fact that one counts so many artistes as one's friends always helps.

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