“The pandemic has changed the way we live. People still fear crowded public spaces and it will be a while before we return to life as we knew it,” says Kamini Sawhney, director, Museum of Art & Photography (MAP). When they started deliberating on a physical launch in 2020, the situation at hand was still miles away. The museum had planned to open in Bengaluru’s Kasturba Road with a collection of over 20,000 works spanning pre-modern art, popular culture, folk and tribal art, modern and contemporary art, textiles, craft and design, and photography.
Waiting for things to improve was out of question. “Since week one of the nationwide lockdown, we have been experimenting with different things in a bid to understand our audiences better: from interactive digital engagement pieces to taking our ‘Art & Culture’ lecture series online and enhancing our website to feature more content,” says Kamini. Putting together a digital museum by way of giving structure and form to all their digital efforts in the last few months was the next step. “The Art (is) Life festival announcing our digital museum is an attempt to take art back into the heart of the community and remind people that art has always been a part of our lives,” says Kamini.
Each of the six days of the festival following the opening night focusses on one section of the entire collection, and includes introductions by experts in the discipline and tours of the highlights of these holdings. The opening night, an virtual amalgamation of art, poetry and dance, features known cultural figures like Javed Akhtar, actor Shabana Azmi, classical dancer Malavika Sarukkai, film and theatre professional Arundhati Nag, art historian B N Goswamy, filmmaker Nandita Das, visual artist Jitish Kallat and singer Kavita Seth.
The programming has been conceived around interconnections between the arts and how each artform has enriched the other. Performances feature artistes from different disciplines responding to artworks from the collections. “From the beautiful paintings that women drew on the walls of their homes and the rangoli patterns that decorate our thresholds to the way, perhaps, that we drape a sari, art is part of how we live, celebrate, worship, grieve and depart the world,” Kamini elaborates, adding that interconnectedness is the inherent way in which art is created and experienced, drawing upon contexts.
The festival also launches MAP’s Museum Without Borders initiative that facilitates dialogue between museums, and the sharing of objects, skills, and ideas. Fifty international institutions will juxtapose a pair of objects from their collections and MAP’s to discover the differences and connections between the two. Some of the institutions include the British Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston), The Morgan Library and Museum, Detroit Institute of Arts, Vitra Design Museum and the Rhode School of Design.
Though COVID-19 had been the major trigger, Kamini is certain that Art (is) Life is not looking to address how online viewing of art may have changed in these times. Rather, it presents new opportunities for people to discover art. “The upside of a digital presence is that it is possible to reach far wider audiences — not just geographically but also linguistically, since content can be made more easily accessible in multiple languages,” she concludes.
Register at www.artislife.events . The festival runs from December 5 to 11.