Today's Paper

Coming soon: a very special museum for women

Mandira Nayar

NEW DELHI: There might be a special place on a wall for women artists here in the Capital soon. With the Washington-based National Museum of Women in the Arts -- the only museum in the world that focuses exclusively on the works of women artists - now planning to launch a museum in India, generations of women artists here that have been lost or reduced to a footnote in the pages of history might well hope to be rediscovered.

"Our vision is to create a National Museum of Women in the Arts to highlight the contributions made by women artists to Indian culture. We were to start a chapter in India first, but then we thought we needed our own museum. The mission of the Museum is to bring attention to the achievements of women in all the States and in all the arts. We have formed a committee that will look after planning and creation of a museum in India,'' says the chairperson of the India Committee, Sunita Kohli.

Paving the way for finding more women achievers like the legendary Amrita Shergil, the announcement of the decision to launch the museum came very aptly on Amrita Shergil Marg in New Delhi -- at the residence of the US Deputy Chief of Mission, Robert Blake, in the presence of a select gathering on Saturday. Mr. Blake's wife Sofia is also on the committee. Hoteliers Priya Paul, Priti Paul and art historian Fiorenza Richter also figure in the committee among others.

The proposed new museum will showcase not just art but also literature, music, crafts, performing arts and cinema. It will also have a research centre to document women's contribution.

The beginning of a new chapter in Indo-US diplomacy of a different kind, this is the first time the National Museum of Women in the Arts is opening a museum overseas. A high-power visiting delegation from the Museum has also met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit to explain the mission.

"It is a historic occasion not only for culture but also for Indo-US ties. The US has great experience in setting up museums and India has a long history of achievement in art. Together this blend will hopefully be an everlasting marriage,'' said Ms. Blake.

The first museum to start looking at the contribution of women artists to art, the National Museum of Women in the Arts owes its birth to the determination of Wilhelmina Cole Holiday in 1987, who found that she could not find any names of women artists in any books on art. In a desire to change that, she set up the museum in a dilapidated old building in Washington.

"Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was very supportive. But we have not worked out any formal agreement as yet for the idea is still in its formative stage. However, we have identified an area of land on the outskirts of the city where we plan to start a northern version of the

Dakshinchitra that is in the South. We have also decided on our first publication,'' revealed Ms. Kohli.

While the museum in Washington does not have any paintings by women in India yet, it has files on 16 women artists in its huge collection of 18,000 files on women artists. However, as its director Judy Larson put it, they hope all that will change.