The Visva-Bharati University set up by Rabindranath Tagore at Santiniketan in West Bengal has received 19 tentative blueprints from architects for a new state-of-the-art Tagore museum to coincide with the poet's 150th birth anniversary this year.
"We have received 19 entries from aspiring architects under a national level architectural competition announced in the media in November 2010," Nilanjan Banerjee, the Visva- Bharati-based curator and text-planner of the proposed museum, told IANS over phone.
Visva-Bharati will build the museum with the help of AusHeritage, the Australian international network for promotion and conservation of cultural heritage.
The proposed museum, a spacious state-of-the-art archive, will be located on an empty plot of land behind Rabindra Bhavan or Bichitra, the existing national archive-cum-resource centre established by the Nobel laureate's son in 1942.
Visva-Bharati finalised a functional brief for the museum in a two-day meeting March 15-16 with a AusHeritage delegation led by chairman Vinod Daniel, an India-born conservationist, Banerjee said.
"We will circulate the briefs to the architects so they can put finishing touches to their designs. The entries will be opened May 7 to coincide with the Nobel laureate's 150th birthday and will be judged. The best entry (and the firm) will be assigned the job to build the museum," he said.
The idea was "to democratise the exhibits. They are not anyone's personal collection", the Tagore scholar said.
The museum will be "world class and include collections from Rabindra Bhavan and Kala Bhavan - two major repositories of Tagore's works in Shantiniketan", said AusHeritage chairman Daniel.
"We want to design a space that captures Tagore's vision. It has also been identified that there should be a world class storage facility for the poet's mammoth body of work and an education centre," Daniel said.
He said "the main aspect would be to capture the connections between Tagore and the people of India as well as an international standard facility that will preserve his collections for future generations".
"We want a contemporary approach to the museum so that even children can relate to it. The museum will be equipped with climate control and humidity control facilities for better preservation of art and manuscripts.
"Tagore was respected in his country and AusHeritage was keen to contribute to perpetuate his legacy. The Indian Consul General in Sydney, Amit Dasgupta, helped in setting up a Tagore Chair at Macquarie University in Sydney," Daniel said.
According to Banerjee, Visva-Bharati has over 4,000 manuscripts, art and memorabilia related to Tagore. The collection includes 1,600 art works.
"But, at the moment, we can display barely 100 objects in a small museum on the university premises. Several objects are in dire need of protection," Banerjee said.
The old building housing the museum "is not modern, lacking in requisite preservation facilities".
"It was built on an old curatorial perspective and starves for display space. We want the new museum to be modern, beautiful and scientifically designed to control climate. Most of Tagore's art are light sensitive and react to moisture and Santiniketan is a humid town. Several manuscripts are rotting because of that. The new museum should have a handsome storage area, wide galleries and a study centre," Banerjee said.
Security would top the agenda as 50 objects from the old museum, including the poet's Nobel Prize, was stolen in 2004, Banerjee said.
"Currently, we have CCTV cameras, a biometric access control system and a fire extinguishing mechanism to protect the exhibits at Rabindra Bhavan, Kala Bhavan, the old museum and other repositories on the campus," he said.
Unveiling his curatorial vision, Banerjee said "most museums in our country are very academic despite the fact that they are meant to communicate".
"They should be designed keeping the visitors' profile in mind, and should not be too intellectual in text. I want to look at Tagore from a holistic and simplistic point of the common man: Tagore as a child, young adult, novelist, poet, short-story writer, patriot, painter and as an institution builder," he said.
Banerjee said the new museum will have a "special corner on Tagore and Bangladesh under the category 'Rabindranath Tagore and Dhaka'. It has never been done before".
A separate enclosure will "document how the theft of the Nobel Prize and 49 other objects occurred in 2004. People are still very curious about the theft," Banerjee said.