In Bihar and online, a mega show of art and artefacts from across India
A massive exhibition opens at the Bihar Museum on March 22 — a rare coming together of key artefacts from 13 Indian museums.
Though it’s being called the Bihar Museum Biennale (BMB), it’s unclear whether it will be held every two years. Either way, visitors to the comprehensive virtual experience on biharmuseumbiennale2021.org can expect to see treasures from the Assam State Museum; City Palace Museum, Udaipur; Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj museum in Mumbai; Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi; Museo Camera, Gurugram; Museum of Art & Photography, Bengaluru; Museum of Goa; National Gallery of Modern Art, Delhi; Piramal museum, Mumbai; as well as institutes in Punjab and Madhya Pradesh, among others.
The Liberation War Museum in Bangladesh, Pszczyna Castle museum in Poland, National Museum of Colombia and National Museum of Interventions in Mexico are joining, virtually.
The week-long exhibition, supported by the state government, was to have been a three-month offline event, says curator Alka Pande, project director for the BMB.
Still, it will be an opportunity to celebrate the rich collections of India’s museums, “each telling its own story”, Pande adds. “It is time to re-examine how we see museums. They are living and experiential spaces that preserve our culture and heritage. As an art historian, I can say that the soul of India, the heart of India in many ways is Bihar, whether it’s Pataliputra or Magadha.”
OFF THE WALL
A cloth painting, ancient statuary, contemporary photo art and a decorated lamp made of bell metal are among the virtual highlights.
The cloth painting or phad is a 2018 work by Abhishek Joshi of Bhilwara, Rajasthan. “It documents the history of the kingdom of Mewar, providing a genealogical listing of its long line of rulers, illustrating certain episodes from their lives in great detail. Scenes include births and deaths, martial training, battles, weddings and religious celebrations,” says Pande, all on an art work 1.5 x 17 metres, from the collection of the City Palace Museum, Udaipur.
The ornate lamp is a 1997 work from Dokra, West Bengal. It’s an artefact traditionally called the Panchadipa Lakshmi or Deeparani — a lamp shaped like a queen heading to a temple on an elephant. Panchadipa comes from the fact that the queen in such works typically holds five oil lamps in her cupped hands, representing the flame of divine light.
From Mumbai’s CSMVS, a 12th-century marble sculpture of a Jain devotee from present-day Sind, Pakistan, will be on display. It depicts a stately figure seated within a decorated three-arched niche, blessed by the seated figure, possibly a likeness of Mahavira, on top. Referred to as a merchant in the inscription, the subject seems to have been a patron of the Jain religion.
Visitors to the exhibition can also attend online events. In a discussion moderated by art historian Saryu Doshi, for instance, anthropologist Sarit Kumar Chaudhuri; Leonhard Emmerling (director for South Asian programmes at Goethe-Institut), jewellery historian and collector Usha Balakrishnan and Gauri Krishnan, an expert in art history and aesthetics, will discuss how art works created for personal, political or religious purposes impact the secular context of the museum space.
In a rather timely discussion titled Art in Isolation, artists Arpana Caur, Paresh Maity, GR Iranna, Seema Kohli and Subodh Gupta will talk about creating art in the lockdown and pandemic. The biennale will also host masterclasses on film, art and on dance as a storytelling tool.