28 July, 2021

Viscera Of The Living Past

Tactile and conceptual. A new wave of museums shakes off the mothballs.

Sawn In Twain
The Partition Museum in Amritsar
Photograph by Prabhjot Singh Gill
Viscera Of The Living Past

Mallika Ahluwalia, a public policy professional from Delhi, isn’t one to treat mus­eums as repositories of mothballed relics and nostalgia. Instead, her curation takes visitors through a visceral exp­erience of the past. The 35-year-old curator’s project—the Partition Mus­eum, housed in the historic Town Hall building in Amritsar with its arched verandahs and Venetian glass doors, does just that—it hum­anises the Partition story. So, what were the objects that women treasured at that time? Textiles, diaries, books and utensils they carried as they fled their homes tell their stories. The ­agony of the immigrant exp­erience manifests itself in a Satish Gujral painting, where memory pours out on canvas like dark waves.

Creative entrepreneurs like Mallika are transforming the museum exp­erience in India. Not only are they breaking away from antiquarian structures, they are also investing in better ­research, technology, outreach and ­design. They are experimenting with various storytelling techniques—from...

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