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Crafting a change

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A new director is getting ready to revamp the to make it more exciting and contemporary

US First Lady may have described her visit to Crafts Museum as the highlight of her recent trip to India, but Ruchira Ghose, director, National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum, isn’t resting on those laurels. Six months into her tenure as the first appointed director in a decade – the museum had earlier been given to a ministry of textiles officer as additional charge – she’s focused on renovating this 20-odd-year old museum to make it more exciting and contemporary.

“Museums in India, by and large, are boring and often don’t make sense. Even when otherwise well-run, they are most often old-fashioned, intimidating places — relics from another time,” says Ghose.

Her blueprint for this first makeover since the museum was founded in the late seventies to develop and preserve handicrafts, involves revamping the galleries and the display of artefacts.

“Placing some 60-odd objects behind a glass screen is passé and such a display creates no connection with the viewer. We would like to juxtapose the objects in a way that engages the audience,” says Ghose. Helping her do this will be an appointed architect and a graphic designing firm, so the galleries can be redone professionally.

Although the entire plan awaits ministry clearance, it has been well received. A J K Menon, Convener of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, says a museum cannot be just about exhibiting: “You have to be more proactive and dynamic to be able to constantly engage children as well as adults.”

He adds that museums the world over are constantly using upgraded technology whether it’s in terms of lighting or display. “The crafts museum seeking professional help of architects and designers is fantastic news as we need imaginative and more importantly expert thinking when it comes to display,” he says.

Ghose —who was previously in Geneva with her husband, who was working there as a senior research economist at the International Labour Organisation, has a Phd from the University of Cambridge in economics — feels even small details like standardising the fonts used in the galleries for labels with the rest of the signage in the museum can go a long way. In a way the aim is to change the perception of the museum to a more dynamic one.

The museum was the vision of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, the driving force behind the revival of Indian crafts, and was set up over a period of 30 years. It was designed by Charles Correa – the celebrated architect and city planner, who was also the first Chairman of the National Commission on Urbanisation appointed by Rajiv Gandhi. It now houses over 30,000 artefacts in five galleries. The museum also has a village complex where 50 artisans representing 25 crafts set up stalls for a month showcasing their products for sale.It also has a reserve collection of 30,000 artefacts, which Ghose says she would also like to display.

In the initial stages, much of Ghose’s efforts have been focused on renovation. The galleries, she says, were in a pitiful condition when she joined. Due to the heavy monsoon this year almost all the roofs of the galleries were leaking. “We had a major seepage problem. Some of the artefacts in the textile gallery are in tatters. The building is crying out for repair,” she adds.

Ghose has already commissioned some of the work with the Rs4.5 crore grant the museum received after the Congress Party’s victory in the 2009 general elections. “We are renovating the cafeteria and the museum shop, and the Bhuta gallery has already been repaired,” says Ghose. The Bhuta gallery houses wooden sculptures made of untreated jackwood sourced from the Mekkekattu shrine in coastal Karnataka in the 1980s.

The rest of the galleries too will be repainted and revamped with roofs being waterproofed and installation of air-conditioning. “Assuming we get the funds required, we plan to finish the refurbishing by the end of 2012 and ready the museum for the next 20 years,” she says.

Ask Ghose about Dilli Haat, which perhaps has been more successful in providing a better platform between crafts people and buyers, and she is quick to reply that comparing the two would be like comparing a Satyajit Ray movie to a Bollywood film. “We may not have a large audience but a loyal one,” she says.

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