The interesting thing for Bangaloreans is to see what kind of museum MAP will be.
Every public arts institution in India these days says that it wants to be inclusive, but most never achieve this goal. Most end up as containers of beautiful objects, a space where an elite few stand silently in contemplation of works of art. Is this where MAP will end up? Or does it want to revert back to the original Latin definition of the word, museum, which comes from the nine muses of inspiration?
Early museums were places where people gathered to debate and exchange ideas. The famed “museion” of Alexandria for example was a library. Museums as they stand now only began in 17th and 18th century Europe. They are Western constructs, which is perhaps why Indians to this day are uneasy about entering museums. Part of it is because we are a privileged civilization where ancient and amazingly beautiful art objects remain part of our functional everyday lives. In India, we can still enter 2nd century temples and worship ancient sculptures of gods and goddesses. We can still touch century-old murals and walk on stone steps that were built by Chola kings. We don’t generally wall off art behind glass and post docents to explain what they mean.
This makes it difficult for museums in general and private museums in particular. No matter whether it is MAP or KNMA (Kiran Nadar Museum of Art) or even the older Salar Jung Museum, bringing footfalls into the space is a particular problem in India, compared to say, museums in London, which operate within a society that is used to specialized separate spaces quite different from the permeable boundaries that define India. In India, our museums go back millennia in the form of stupas and temples that plundering kings built to win back public favour. Today crowds of people happily traipze through Pattadakkal and Badami, quite unaware that the treasures they are touching would be spirited away by modern curators if they could.
Modern arts institutions whether they were founded by robber-barons of America, or today’s rich folks are acts of passion and redemption, a way of equalizing the inequalities that life has so richly bestowed to you, a way to set things right and perhaps most importantly, leave a legacy. So what then is the function of a museum in today’s India? What is its role and what should be its goal? Kantara, the super-hit and must-watch Kannada movie may offer an answer.