Amid Coronavirus lockdown, how museums are sprucing up their collections and keeping history virtually alive

ThePartition Museum, Amritsar

ThePartition Museum, Amritsar   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

There is going to be a shift in tourism once the lockdown lifts, and museums and other public spaces are mulling over the changes they have to make in their functioning. Here are a few that are using the time to plan ahead and hoping to come back stronger

The Partition Museum, Amritsar

Since its launch on August 17, 2017, thousands have visited the museum dedicated to thePartition in 1947. Fourteen galleries at the old Town Hall building hold archival photographs, documents, and other detritus of the millions of people who were torn from their families, friends, homes and hearth in one of the largest migrations in the history of humankind.

The museum’s curated tours, film-screenings, discussions and exhibitions have moved online since lockdown. Many are signing up for virtual tours, presentations on the Partition, and history webinars. Interactive sessions such as ‘Textiles from a People Divided’, where participants learn about phulkari, Dhakai, jamdani and so on, are popular.

Says Mallika Ahluwalia, CEO and curator of the museum, “The mission is to share the history and learning and since visitors cannot come to the museum, we are taking the museum to them.” Poets, young and old, are invited to present their original verses on the Partition, online. Poetry has come in from Mumbai, Rawalpindi, London and many other places and they are being shared on the museum’s page. There are also posts of poems recited by Partition survivors and personalities like Gulzar.

Partition Museum is using the lockdown to plan future activities. “It is designing an audio tour that will be available in English, Hindi and Punjabi to visitors, when it reopens. The scripting, recording, editing and translation work is happening now, remotely,” explains Mallika. They are also in discussion on how to practise physical distancing once they open.

A view of the National Museum in New Delhi

A view of the National Museum in New Delhi   | Photo Credit: R_V_Moorthy

IGNCA and the National Museum, Delhi

The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) presented the first of its webinars in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, on World Heritage Day. It conducted virtual tours of cultural resources and exhibitions like the ones on Rabindranath Tagore and the History of Ancient Scripts in India.

“On the webinar, we had 600 experts from around the globe. We are able to talk to a lot of people,” says Professor Ramesh C Gaur, Dean and Head, Kala Nidhi Division, IGNCA. It is an opportunity for people to participate and listen to experts. On May 6, there was a Facebook Live session on ‘Arts and Artists in the Post Covid World’, conducted by Professor Bharat Gupt, Trustee, IGNCA.

The use of immersive technologies, digital archiving and remote access to Indian cultural heritages are still a distant dream, says Gaur. “We have a vast heritage, but either these have not been digitised, and if digitised, not accessible. Museums will have to be converted into virtual ones. We need public-private

partnership and digital archives of our cultural heritage, like full texts of rare books and manuscripts, and get partnerships with IT companies; international aggregators; and producers of e-resources,” he says.

Meanwhile in the National Museum, people are working on cataloguing and archiving on the online platform. They are also organising live storytelling and learning sessions on their Instagram account. They are accessible from the Virtual Tours on the Google Arts & Culture Platform.

Napier Museum in Thiruvananthapuram.

Napier Museum in Thiruvananthapuram.   | Photo Credit: S Mahinsha

Museums and Zoo, Thiruvananthapuram

Thiruvananthapuram is a city of museums. The verdant grounds of the Napier Museum, a green lung for the capital city, is a major tourist attraction as it shares its campus with the Natural History Museum and the Sree Chitra Art Gallery, with its collection of paintings by Raja Ravi Varma, and the KCS Panicker Gallery.

The Zoological Park, one of the oldest in India (established in 1855) and spread over 55 acres, is also on the same compound. The museum building, set up in 1857 by Uthram Thirunal, was demolished in 1874 to make way for a new one in the Indo-Saracenic style, designed by Robert F Chisholm. Named after Lord Napier, the then Governor of Madras, it opened in 1880 in Ayilyam Thirunal maharaja’s reign.

The renovated Natural History Museum is a must for its interesting collection of flora and fauna. The lockdown period is being used to spruce up the garden, says S Abu, Director of Museums and Zoos. “Once a week, we open the museums to make sure there are no lapses in security and to monitor changes in humidity, temperature, etc. The lockdown has not affected the inhabitants of the zoo. Elaborate arrangements had been made for their food and we follow staggered duty timings for the staff. This should have been a peak period for us. The campus is covered with flowering trees.”

The renovated Hill Palace Museum, Kochi

The renovated Hill Palace Museum, Kochi   | Photo Credit: Vipin Chandran

Hill Palace Museum, Kochi

The Hill Palace Museum in Tripunithura is sprawled over 52 acres. Built in 1865 as a royal residence, there are today 49 buildings made up of galleries that hold artefacts from the erstwhile maharaja’s personal collection of jewellery, paintings and sculptures. There is a children’s park and a deer park outdoors.

“Since we don’t know when the lockdown will lift, we are regularly cleaning and dusting and checking the artefacts for damage and decay,” says Karunadas TK, the Registrar of Centre for Heritage Studies and officer in-charge of the museum. “Close to 35 employees keep the premises clean, maintaining physical distancing protocols prescribed by the Government. The main concern now is to keep the museum pieces safe from dust and resultant damage. The traditional architectural elements of the nallukettu and ettukettu, with high ceilings and woodwork, allow pigeons, rodents and civets to get in. We have sought help from the Kerala Fire Force for cleaning,” he explains.

The deer park, which is maintained by the Centre for Heritage Studies, has over 300 spotted and sambar deer. It is being cleaned and spruced up by four or five employees taking turns to do that. The Department of Archaeology converted it into an ethno-archaelogical museum in 1986. The chunk of exhibits are from the royals family, the Paliam Devaswom and the Department of Archaeology.

Visitors at the Keeladi Exhibition at Wolrd Tamil Sangam in Madurai. File Photo: R. Ashok

Visitors at the Keeladi Exhibition at Wolrd Tamil Sangam in Madurai. File Photo: R. Ashok   | Photo Credit: R_ASHOK

Keeladi Exhibition at World Tamil Sangam, Madurai

The World Tamil Sangam in Madurai inaugurated an exhibition of treasures from the Keeladi excavation site, that throw light on a civilisation that flourished on the banks of the Vaigai river, much before the Sangam Era. Barely five months later, the Ulaga Tamil Sangam complex fell silent and along with it the exhibition. Till lockdown was announced, 30,000people from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, places in the North and abroad had trooped in to get a glimpse of the life of ancient Tamils.

The rich haul of material displayed includes black and red ware pottery, iron tools, terracotta toys, spindle whorls, board games in ivory, gold, shell bangles and jewellery with semi-precious stones.

According to R Sivanantham, Deputy Director, TN State Archaeology Department, and Director (Keeladi Excavations), with no footfall now, the lockdown is being used productively by the Archaeological Officers, research scholars and technical officers for archiving and documentation tasks. The staff is spending time at the excavation site at Keeladi, classifying, labelling and documenting the 1.5 lakh pottery items excavated.

“It is like a puzzle, pondering over the broken pieces and putting them together using imagination after a comparative study and an understanding of the different designs, shapes and drawings on the pottery,” explains Sivanantham. He hopes things will look up soon. “After the lockdown, we will allow small batches of people at a time inside. We have to evolve ways to keep the interest of students in heritage alive.”

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Printable version | Aug 4, 2020 8:49:56 AM |

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