WAYS OF SEEING: Art, Iconography, Craft and Museums

Curated by Mrinmoy Das, Founder, www.abhijna-emuseum.com

Curators Note:

The talk series is aimed to provide an elaborative idea on all the cultural connotations viewed from different perspectives. The speakers in the panel attempts to distinguish the cultural meanings, its existence and interpretations, in their topics, however, but, collectively adjoining in the areas such as people, space and time. Also, the speakers would explore in reconsidering the civic mission of the meaning making cultural institutions such as Museums. The interdisciplinary topic of multi-cultural contexts is aimed to analyse the functions and roles of traditional materials, institutions, and knowledge characterized by an augmented mix of ideas.

A total of 11 speakers from diverse backgrounds with expertise on the study, creation and understanding of relationship between culture, mankind and national identity would be sharing their diverse perspectives through their individual video talk presentations.

The Silk Avenue and woven artistry of Assam

Speaker : Kamal Lochan Bora, Director, VEDICAA ETIQUETTE

If we try to date back the history of handloom in India, we will find its traces rooting to Indus Valley Civilization. For many decades the Indian history mentioned the flourishing textiles in local as well as global market and a very significant portion of its recognition comes from the “Handloom ” sector of Assam. And what makes it more desirable is its cultural constituent. It is not just for the commercial sales but is also a part & parcel of everyday lives in Assamese culture.

Also, the spinning and weaving activities were an indispensable profession of every Assamese household, especially during the Ahom regime. It even became the primary qualification of a young girl for her eligibility for marriage. Historical records say, some of the Ahom queens were also personally involved in patronizing silk industry in Assam. During Ahom battleship, wives of the warriors had to weave armours manually using yarn spin a night before their arrival on the battleground, ignoring which was considered as a bad omen.
“Muga” became an integral substance in Assamese culture. Muga “mekhela-chadar” for women and “cheleng-suria” for men became compulsory traditional attire in the place of worship and other occasions.

Economically, handloom & handicraft plays a vital role in the state. Proving sustenance to a large section of people and growth of the region. Craft Tradition of India is the 2nd largest workforce of India after agricultural is handloom & handicraft. Each artisan, who is the reason behind each elegant product puts in a great deal of effort to bring forth the enriching culture of the state in the form of artisteries. The livelihood and lifestyle of an artisan indicates the development of our industry.

Enhancing Museum Experience in Emphasis to Curator Walk

Speaker: Namrata Sharma, Project Curator, Assam State Museum

The concept of curated walks in museums or heritage sites refer to an activity where visitors traverse the physical space occupied by the object(s) of interest, while being mediated by a guide or a curator. These walks allude to a three-way dialogue between the audience, the mediator and the object. This reflects how curated walks and the dialogues they engender function in museum spaces, and what it entails for production, comprehension and consumption of knowledge about artefacts and heritages among visitors and curators alike
Conservation Decision Making: The Process and its Challenges

Speaker: Antareen Talukdar, Conservator, Mehrangarh Museum Trust

Conservation is a process which aims to prolong the life span of an artifact or collection by identifying and mitigating the factors of deterioration and stabilizes the artifact in its present condition. Decision making in conservation is often experienced as one of the most challenging and crucial parts of the entire conservation process. It involves different steps and addresses various notions of conservation ethics and principles. The documentation and condition assessment is the most essential step for formulating and implementing a conservation methodology as it provides a baseline data regarding the materials, construction technique and conservation status of an artifact. Further, the implementation and extent of a conservation treatment depends on the desirability and agreement of the custodian. The topic of my talk tries to discuss the conservation terminologies, tools, methods a conservator use prior to formulating a conservation decision and parameters influencing it. The talk will further shed light into the notion of reversibility of a conservation treatment and minimal intervention.

Documentation Methodology of Intangible Cultural Heritage

Speaker: Tripta Singh, Senior Research Associate, INTACH, New Delhi

The paper will provide an understanding of onsite documentation of intangible cultural heritage and its related methodologies. The Presentation is aimed to provide details about the importance and methods through which the documentation is conducted on field.

Intangible cultural heritage have emerged as an interesting and significant field of heritage in the convention held in 2003. However it is important to understand various means/ ways (audio – visual) to document the intangible cultural heritage. Documentation Methodologies – Includes local and other partners in the activity chain. Recording should be done in stages, to observe and document what is happening at each stage. Often, it might be necessary to host a workshop to record elements missing in regular practice. This could include detailed process of ICH, keeping in mind aspects pertaining to source, work practice/ arts practice, adaptations /changes/current modifications, and collecting an oral history of ICH from the practitioners

Understanding Chamadi: A Significant Traditional Institution of Tiwa Cultural System

Speaker: Dr. Arunima Goswami, Assistant Professor (Cultural Studies), Assam Women University

Tiwas being one of the autochthones of the region of Assam possess a large assemblage of cultural traditions imbued with allegorical means or having literal sense. The whole cultural system of the community can be considered as a stratified system carved with multiple interdependent structures. One of the most significant institutions of their cultural system is Chamadi, which is the youth’s dormitory organization of Tiwas. It has a significant role to play in their social, religious, economic and cultural life. Chamadi is exclusively a property of the young boys within a Tiwa village. It is a preparation ground for Tiwa males, where they are being prepared not only to be competent in the domestic affairs but also learnt to be readily available in socio economic needs and political emergencies. Being a paramount non formal institution among the Tiwas Chamadi embraces all such consequential aspects which foster their disciplined as well as community way of life. With the hold of modernization, rapid transformation, increased mobility and social change Chamadi has lost its importance in contemporary time, however its presence still glorifies the essence of a Tiwa village. Its absence can’t be overshadowed by any other institution

The traditions of Pichhwai Paintings in Rajasthan

Speaker: Indira Vats, Curator, Palace Museum Rajasthan

Pichhwai is a Sanskrit term which means ‘to hang behind’ . The concept of Pichhwai is related to the temple hangings painted on cloth which portrays lord Krishna and his life. They are mainly made to hang behind the idol of Shrinathji (the childhood form of lord Krishna) to pursue devotional tradition in the temple of Shrinathji situated in Nathdwara, Rajasthan. The purpose of these hangings are to narrate the tales of Lord Krishna to the devotees. The tradition describes the religious values of people and also gives example of sacred art. The Pichhwai mainly prepared on large cloth but as per religious consciousness, many artists from Rajasthan started doing mechanism of these paintings of Krishna on paper and later on costumes also. This talk is about to give a brief introduction to the Pichhwai and its themes used as sacred art in Nathdwara temple and its popularisation by the devotional artists in form of paintings

Changing Context of Objects in Museums

Speaker: Upasana Kashyap, History of Art, University of Hyderabad

The art and artifacts that we see in museums today were once part of a variety of geographic locations and cultural settings completely different from where they are set in the present times, anointed with their unique purposes and functions.

The sculptures we encounter today were once part of either religious structures, monasteries or city squares and administrative buildings, created and placed there for religious, political, cultural significance or simply for decorative purposes. The paintings we come across in museums and galleries, many years ago were never expected to end up in such public buildings but painted for the patrons that sponsored it, or for religious buildings where they were part of a series of paintings that narrated the stories of god, or painted as illustrations in a manuscript purposed to be viewed with the accompanying texts usually looked at only by kings or rich patrons, and not by hoards of the common public as we see now in museums. Then there are objects that we categorize as crafts that people used in their daily lives and were prioritized for their functions than their aesthetic forms. Such crafts or utilitarian arts exhibited in our museums now stand as markers in the narrative of the evolution of craft making and folk-art.
This talk would henceforth concentrate on how the meanings and contexts of the art and crafts of various cultures and histories are brought together in the spaces of museums, and influenced by its political, sociological and ideological aspects that decide on their arrangements and presentation, putting impact on what and how the public encounters and understands these carefully selected assortments of objects.

Condition Assessment of Paintings using Imaging Techniques

Speaker: Ritu Saran, Research Assistant, National Museum New Delhi

New imaging techniques are increasingly being used in cultural heritage. This talk will explore potential uses of such technologies within conservation and implications of their use on object preservation. Imaging is a key skill in many aspects of conservation, and there are many different types of photography that are valuable for providing different types of information. It can be used to provide qualitative and quantitative data, and allows us to look at paintings, objects and buildings in new ways. The vast majority of imaging techniques are methods of recording topographic information. It helps us illustrate phenomena and characterize deterioration problems. Analysis of paintings using imaging techniques such as visible reflectography, infrared reflectography and ultra-violet fluorescence are non-invasive in nature, and are often used as complementary methods to chemical analysis of the painting. While imaging provides information on features such as underdrawing and alterations, analysis of physical structure is able to provide data useful in dating a painting or in understanding an artist’s use of materials. The examiner must have a comprehensive understanding of how to make best use of these techniques as a tool for art research and apply them most effectively.

The Collection Story of a Museum

Speaker: Abantika Parashar, District Museum Officer Jorhat

As Museum professionals, we very often come across questions on mode of acquisition.Each and everything can not be a part of a museum. How an object becomes part of a museum collection? What are the challenges that museum professionals have to face while going for filed collection? Can anything be donated? Do we get money for donating objects to museum? What are the administrative formalities? Why is heritage awareness drives are necessary?This lecture is a humble effort to answer such questions from a Museum perspective.

Understanding the Social Impact of Traditional Craft Museums

Speaker : Zahir Khan, Museologist

Traditional craft museums celebrate the rich, diverse and living traditions of a community, geographical area or country. Traditional craft exhibits are preserved with the objective of providing a source for revival, reproduction and development of Indian crafts and artisans. These museums can have a significant influence on society. They enrich the lives of individuals, create strong and resilient communities and promote a vision of social inclusion. There is an urge for increased social impact of museums. It demonstrates that museums can be ambitious about their role in society. Museums can enrich our experiences, exterminate biases and stereotypes, arouse emotional and cultural connect, provide inspiration and challenge negative attributes of our society.

With society facing issues such as racism, inequality, poverty, and discrimination, museums have helped us debate, study and challenge such issues and promote social inclusion. This can be achieved through discourses, public involvement, engaging with diverse communities, increasing efficacy of an individual/community and sharing knowledge in ways that remains congruent to the contemporary morals and ethics of our society.
An individual’s perspective, interaction with museum stakeholders, efficient communication system, museum narrative and its own interpretation of collection become decisive in influencing people. Museums do not directly express their ideology; rather, they exist as collections and displays of visual ideology. This ideology creates a dominant narrative of visual representation of not only its collection but other intangible heritage which leaves its impact on the society.

Traditional craft museums are different from other standard museums with regard to their narrative styles and visual ideology. These museums consider traditional crafts an important elelment where museums become catalysts as social agents and communities hold an indispensable position. The presentation will explore different ways in which museums influences its stakeholders and understand its impact on society.

The Solapith Craft Tradition of Western Assam

Speaker: Pooja Sonowal, Research Assistant, National Museum,New Delhi

Sholapith craft is One of the finest living traditions of craft making practised by the Malakars or Bhuimali community residing in different parts of Dhubri and nearby Goalpara districts of Assam. The Solapith craft is made from Shola or Kuhila, a plant which grows in the marshy waterlogged areas and the craft form is locally termed as Sholar kaj. The scientific name of the plant is Aeschynomen Aspera and is an herbaceous plant. The main part of the plant which is used for making is the cortex, the inner soft-white and fibrous part which is exposed when the outer layer of the stalk is shaved. The core is sliced into strips, and made into sheets, cubes, cones etc according to the artisans imagination.