Spotlight | Art

Museums, home delivered

Social distancing advice from an exhibit.   | Photo Credit: Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum

When young cultural practitioner Medhavi Gandhi developed Scavenger Hunt, a game in which you look for particular objects in Hyderabad’s Salar Jung Museum using the Google Arts & Culture virtual tour, it did not get a particularly enthusiastic response. Then, last week, the numbers jumped. When Gandhi saw the sudden spike in the number of hits to 380, she re-shared it, and the numbers rose even more.

As the coronavirus forces us to stay indoors, young people, students, and families are turning to creative activities online. And museums and art platforms have begun to see this as an excellent opportunity to connect. So you can download a Jamini Roy activity sheet for children, or stencils of folk paintings, or look for objects in your family archive and write about it, or just browse through stories.

Paul Abraham’s Sarmaya is a digital museum that offers lectures, virtual exhibitions, and reading on the traditions of Indian art. But Abraham, a banker, realised it was time to push the envelope. “We realised that parents wanted their kids to learn, play and stay entertained at home. So earlier this month we shared stencils of our favourite objects from folk and indigenous art collections that could be downloaded, coloured and shared ,” says Avehi Menon, Archive Director, Sarmaya Arts Foundation.

Spanish flu

To commemorate the centenary year of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, the Partition Museum in Amritsar had put together an exhibition last year. Their research found a lot of material related to the Spanish influenza that had infected millions in 1918. When its physical doors were shut, the museum decided to relate these stories online. An old newspaper clipping for instance reads “Calcutta is now suffering from a mysterious disease, the cause of which have (sic) so far baffled medical practitioner (sic) here, though various theories are advanced as to its origin.”

An online crossword.

An online crossword.   | Photo Credit: The Heritage Lab

“We have been running a lot of interactive activities on our social media pages,” says Mallika Ahluwalia, the CEO of Partition Museum. “Earlier this week we asked people to look around their homes for items from their family archives they could post and tag us on. We are also creating worksheets around textiles and other subjects families can do together. And we will be posting written testimonies around the subject of Spanish influenza.”

Gandhi meanwhile is putting out crossword challenges and quizzes on the The Heritage Lab website she founded, and on social media. A Jamini Roy activity sheet had more than 850 downloads in just one week. “My target audience is the millennials and I am getting a lot of feedback from them. Even educators can use these tools. The possibilities are far greater than what museums are exploring right now,” she says.

Image from an online worksheet on Phulkari embroidery.

Image from an online worksheet on Phulkari embroidery.   | Photo Credit: Partition Museum

History and humour

The Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum in Mumbai was perhaps the first museum in the city to partner with Google Arts and Culture in 2016. The virtual tour has been accessed by about 51 million people worldwide. According to Ruta Waghmare-Baptista, Assistant Curator-Education and Collection at the museum, “We now have over 250 objects from the permanent collection, new acquisitions, and seven virtual exhibitions for people to explore. On our social media pages, we combined humour and history to talk about best practices as prescribed by WHO during these times.”

The viewership has doubled this week, says Waghmare-Baptista. “It is indicative of how important online engagement is for museums, especially during times like these when all of us could use some positivity, art, and humour.” The National Museum in Delhi is unveiling its latest exhibition ‘The Great Steppe: Time. Space. Culture’ on its Instagram page. Hashtags like #museumsfromhome #museumgames created by museums in the U.S. after they shut down are being used by several Indian museums as well,” explains Gandhi, who is developing a digital tool kit for museum professionals in India and Europe.

F.N. Souza’s ‘Still Life with Eggs’, 1984.

F.N. Souza’s ‘Still Life with Eggs’, 1984.   | Photo Credit: Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation

Dining with laptops

Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation on Mumbai is also reaching out to people in innovative ways. “We recently initiated an interactive activity on Instagram, ‘What’s on your lunch table?’, where we asked people to doodle on a line drawing of a table, which we took from an F.N. Souza painting from our collection. We had a great response to this post as people got creative, drawing the things on their tables,” says Puja Vaish, Director of the Foundation.

Many people drew food, some sketched laptops and work materials and hand sanitisers, as the dining table was now doubling up as a work table. While this was a fun activity, it also highlighted the work by Souza in the collection. And it also gave people an outlet to share their stories during these strange times,” says Vaish.

The writer is a journalist with interest in art and culture.

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Printable version | Jun 14, 2021 9:26:26 AM |

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