As popular narratives centre around conserving monumental contributions of foreign architects and artists, the debate on art seems to have overlooked the need to preserve the indigenous heritage.
The Government Art Museum in Sector 10, which possesses arguably the world's largest collection of Indian miniature paintings from the 16th to the 20th century, stands testimony to the sorry state of affairs.
Rigorous efforts by the Chandigarh administration, and multi-layered debates among the city's heritage lovers, are on to conserve the decades-old furniture said to have been designed by Chandigarh's French architect Le Corbusier and his foreign teammates.
But it's been years that thousands of rare indigenous artifacts showcasing ancient and modern Indian art, some as old as 2,400 years, have been kept in the dark and dingy storerooms of the museum, most of them never put on display. These storerooms remain out of bounds for photojournalists too.
The Sector 10 museum was conceptualised and developed by eminent bureaucrat MS Randhawa, who procured hundreds of miniature paintings from the kingdoms in Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan.
It was due to the efforts of Randhawa, the first chief commissioner of Chandigarh, that the idea of the museum was revived, which was otherwise dumped by the Punjab government after the 1962 war.
Managed by the department of art and culture of the UT administration, the museum has a total collection of 12,000 artifacts and artworks, including around 627 Gandhara sculptures dating back to the 1st-4th century. There are around 4,000 rare Indian miniature paintings, of which 200 are on display. There are also around 4,000 rare coins, besides manuscripts and around 1,500 works of contemporary art.
However, due to the shortage of expert staff, barring a few hundreds of these artifacts the rest have not been put on display for years. These should otherwise have been displayed by rotation after an interval of 4-6 months, said sources.
"Rotation of displayed items every six months is a mammoth task. Besides curators and technical staff, the museum needs regular assisting staff, including carpenters, who can continuously assist execution of section-wise rotation. With the current staff, that task is not possible," said a member of the Museum Advisory Committee.
This neglect of local heritage need focus at a time when the administration is strongly pushing the idea of setting up a large and separate display facility to keep thousands of furniture items that are claimed to have been designed by eminent foreign artists. It must be mentioned that the administration has not succeeded a great deal in saving those artifacts, too, from auctions across the world.
Besides eminent art historian BN Goswami, and Diwan Manna, who heads the Chandigarh Lalit Kala Academy, the UT home secretary, finance secretary, chief engineer, chief architect, director of museums and several historians, academicians, geologists and architects are also members of the museum committee.
Jasvinder Kaur, director Museums, UT,said,The miniature painting display has not been changed as the reserve collection is closed due to the work on the air-conditioning plant.Exhibits of contemporary art are rotated every three months. Some objects are on permanent display."