The Body in Indian Art, a rich concept of exhibiting the uniqueness of the annals of Indian museology matched with an equally captivating and unconventional design displayed in eight galleries of the National Museum(NM) ended up last week.
With its distinct approach to deck-up, lighting and even acoustics tailor-made for the unusual sequencing of objects, NM turned a new leaf in the history of Indian museology. 'It has raised the bar of museology in India', said NM Director-General Venu V. Normally, the concept of design gets subdued under the weight of a phenomenal exhibition, which The Body in Indian Art was. But it is equally true that such a huge event - with over 350 objects on display - needed a brilliant design to crystallize the concept, and the design wing did a tremendous job', noted Venu. 'Putting the storyline into use by apt and ideal use of space (in NM) was the task that followed,’ recalled Chatterjee, an alumnus of National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. He further added, ‘There were only two-and-a-half months left for me to meet the deadline. However, the initial sketches themselves gave high hopes of realising the task.’
Ahuja said the unusual sequencing lent certain objects at the BIA interpretations that were completely distinct from Indomania. ‘When we (Ahuja and Chatterjee) moved things in the NM space, new configurations began emerging.’
The design at BIA also went for a massive reinvention vis-à-vis Indomania. For, here a chunk of the expected visitors was closer to the country’s heritage - culturally and geographically. Thus the gallery on ‘Supernatural’ was a longish hall of many-hued stone columns that evoke the famed colonnades of a South Indian temple, forming a grand setting for the morphed, deformed and divine bodies in that gallery.
Similarly, the gallery on ‘rapture’ was set against a painted landscape of grove-like clusters of curved textile surfaces with colours drawn from Ragamala paintings, forming intimately scaled enclosures for these sculptures and miniatures. ‘I believe the visitor experienced a different dissolution of architectural space in the textured, ash-grey gallery on asceticism, carpeted from floor to pedestal to ceiling,’ Chatterjee said. Again, after the gripping darkness of the galleries (painted in black) on death, one entered the second, which was about ‘shunyata’ (nothingness) and the body beyond form.
All galleries had their particular harmonic arrangements in response to specific works, themes and spaces — using colour, light, line, material and volume to provide a tonal rhythm within which individual art pieces shone forth, interacting both with other masterpieces and with the visitor’s body. The synthesis of sight and sound was also a striking feature, with music and video installations dispersed throughout the galleries, providing places for rest and contemplation. Several galleries featured specially designed wall-mounted display tables, carefully angled to exhibit miniature paintings worked out with ergonomic attention to Indian body proportions.