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Viewers’ company

Guess who’s bringing India to London this summer? Renuka Narayanan tells more...

india Updated: Feb 05, 2009 22:38 IST
Renuka Narayanan

A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token. It is therefore a risky and unfeeling act to send it out into the world. How often it must be permanently impaired by the eyes of the vulgar and the cruelty of the impotent who would extend the affliction universally!

Mark Rothko

How interesting that the press note for the May-October ‘Indian Summer’ of exhibitions, concerts and theme gardens at the British Museum in London says of paintings loaned for the show from the Mehrangarh Museum: “The Jodhpur artists reached the same aesthetic and spiritual zone as Mark Rothko, but a century earlier.” Tut. A reflex of lost Empire to reference through a Western filter, as if to say, “You chaps were good you know, because a major western artist did something similar a 100 years later”?

Having had no choice but to notice that, it’s back to the dilemma of the ‘lovely individual vs the unlovely institution’ that characterises our difficulties with Pakistan and the ‘capitalist imperialists’ of the West. The British Museum is a robber’s cave and testimonial to the ‘engulf and devour’ western worldview that Asia and Africa know intimately to their considerable cost.

But then, there’s the utter charm and talent of T. Richard Blurton, curator of the British Museum. Blurton was in Delhi this week to announce the ‘Indian Summer’ show. Remember him? He put together that fabulous display of treasures from the British Museum at the National Museum in Delhi in 1997, called ‘The Enduring Image’.

I met him at dinner then and never forgot that he had spent three years documenting Hampi, living under canvas and tasting Indian village life. Blurton, touching 57, had earlier worked on archaeological documentation in Kandahar, where the wife of Sir Mortimer Wheeler, discoverer of Mohenjo-Daro, was in charge of the ceramic finds. He has curated 15 exhibitions at the British Museum, which he joined 22 years ago and is currently doing a five-year project on the culture and artefacts of Arunachal Pradesh, besides having written a book on Hindu art and another on the textiles of the Eastern Himalayas.

What makes Blurton so appealing is his enthusiasm, love, knowledge and humility, the true scholar’s toolkit. It is even more cherishable when we think of the Buddhas at Bamiyan destroyed mindlessly by the Taliban with no respect for the worship and daring of their own Afghan ancestors who carved their way with patient, death-defying ardour down those cliffs.

Blurton also wrote a book on Burmese gold lacquerware after an Englishman from Myanmar donated his personal collection to the British Museum. He kindly explained the provenance and details of the late 19th century (broken) Burmese bowl, a family fragment that I took to show him.

Who would know today, in India? Perhaps it was an Indian that proudly plastered the Rothko reference? Never mind, wouldn’t you rather have Blurton than the vulgar, cruel Taliban?