India’s MAP Museum of Artwork & Pictures tackles biases and the male gaze

India’s MAP Museum of Artwork & Pictures tackles biases and the male gaze

Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

India’s long-awaited MAP Museum of Artwork and Pictures, a significant new cultural establishment within the southern metropolis of Bengaluru, welcomed its first guests this month, providing a glimpse at a 60,000-item assortment which will assist reframe the subcontinent’s artwork historical past.

Set throughout a brand new five-story constructing, the non-public museum focuses — as its identify suggests — on pre-modern, fashionable and up to date artwork, in addition to pictures. However its wealthy archive of textiles, crafts and print promoting speaks to a wider mission: eroding the excellence between “superb” artwork and what the museum describes as “on a regular basis creativity.”

Bollywood memorabilia and conventional woven materials share the highlight with historical bronzes and carved deities. MAP’s founder, the businessman and philanthropist Abhishek Poddar, stated the gathering places “every little thing on one stage taking part in subject.”

“The complete differentiation between ‘excessive’ artwork and ‘low’ artwork, ornamental arts and superb arts, will not be an Indian idea,” stated Poddar, who’s among the many nation’s most distinguished artwork collectors, in a video name. “It is a very Western assemble. That is how we have grown up taking a look at it in museums, however not that is not how it’s in life.”

Bhupen Khakhar's 1965 work "Devi," which deconstructs the conventional image of a goddess, features in a MAP exhibition charting the representation of women in Indian art.

Bhupen Khakhar’s 1965 work “Devi,” which deconstructs the traditional picture of a goddess, options in a MAP exhibition charting the illustration of girls in Indian artwork. Credit score: Museum of Artwork & Pictures, Bangalore

Making the gathering accessible — and sidestepping perceptions that artwork galleries are elitist establishments — is a part of Poddar’s objective of fostering what he calls a “museum-going tradition” in India. A lot of MAP is free to the general public, with charges for ticketed exhibitions waived one afternoon per week. The museum stated it welcomed over 1,000 folks on every day of its opening weekend.

MAP can also be explicitly concentrating on younger folks in a rustic the place over 1 / 4 of the inhabitants is aged 14 or below. Its open-access digital choices (which turned a focus after Covid-related delays pushed again the museum’s opening by over two years), embrace video workshops, webinars and an internet encyclopedia of South Asian artwork with over 2,000 entries overseen by skilled students.

“India has among the most superb artwork, each when it comes to what was made previously and what’s being made at present,” stated Poddar, who based MAP with 7,000 works from his non-public assortment and has since donated “a couple of thousand” extra. “Why is it that we do not go to Indian museums, however each time we journey abroad, one of many first issues we do is go to a museum over there?”

Countering biases

MAP’s opening program additionally displays its concern with ignored narratives. Take its top-billed exhibition, “Seen/Invisible,” which explores the illustration of girls all through Indian artwork historical past.

Over the centuries, females have been depicted as goddesses and moms, as nurturers and commodities. But, barring uncommon exceptions like painter Amrita Sher Gil, they have been till just lately considered solely via the eyes of males, defined the present’s curator and MAP director, Kamini Sawhney.

A textile label from the trading company Shaw Wallace, depicting a woman as "Goddess India," is among the examples of everyday design in the show.

A textile label from the buying and selling firm Shaw Wallace, depicting a lady as “Goddess India,” is among the many examples of on a regular basis design within the present. Credit score: Museum of Artwork & Pictures, Bangalore

“India ladies are deified as goddesses and, on the different finish of the spectrum, they’re checked out as objects of need,” she stated in a video name shortly after the present’s opening. “So the place is the house in between for ladies to simply be regular mortals with the ambitions, wishes and frailties that every one of us have?”

“Seen/Invisible” partly goals to current, then deconstruct, this male gaze. The 130 works on show vary from what Sawhney known as the “big-breasted, tiny-waisted, wide-hipped goddesses” depicted in tenth century statues to a poster for the 1957 Bollywood epic “Mom India,” which imagines its heroine as a plough-wielding nationalist image of post-colonial India.

Because the twentieth century progressed, ladies started “taking maintain of the narrative,” Sawhney added. As such, later works embrace the feminine artists whose rise mirrored ladies’s altering standing and the broader feminist artwork motion. A brooding 1991 portray by Nalini Malani imagines legendary ladies as figures of each nurture and violence; Nilima Sheikh’s “Mom and Baby 2” depicts a maternal bond that millennia of male artists may solely guess at.

The exhibition additionally options six authentic works commissioned to assist fill gaps within the canon, together with a quilt by non-binary artist Renuka Rajiv and a video work by LGBTQ collective Payana that was created in collaboration with transgender folks aged 50 and above.

A still from the 1950 movie "Dahej," which MAP's exhibition catalog describes as a "powerful critique of the practice of dowry in India."

A nonetheless from the 1950 film “Dahej,” which MAP’s exhibition catalog describes as a “highly effective critique of the observe of dowry in India.” Credit score: Museum of Artwork & Pictures, Bangalore

At a time when museums are anticipated to be extra than simply vessels for artwork, Sawhney’s curatorial strategy seeks to counter biases. Future exhibitions, she stated, will draw on the craft traditions of marginalized communities and indigenous artwork that has not, historically, been “seen as worthy of getting into a museum.”

A museum will not be “simply objects on partitions,” Sawhney stated, including: “Whose narrative are we telling on a regular basis? Or whose views are we presenting? I believe it is a loss for our audiences if they don’t seem to be capable of hear a number of voices. So, we see MAP as an area not only for dominant voices, however for everybody’s voice locally.”

Philanthropy guidelines

With a 44,000-square-foot constructing designed by native structure agency Mathew & Ghosh, MAP options 4 galleries, an auditorium, a conservation middle and a analysis library. It additionally enjoys a central location in what is actually the museum district of Bengaluru, a metropolis usually dubbed “India’s Silicon Valley.”

Early proposals confronted opposition from some native artists, who expressed concern about — amongst different issues — the prominence of enterprise figures on MAP’s board. However the museum, like a lot of India’s artwork sector, depends on non-public funding. The Indian Ministry of Tradition’s total annual funds for the approaching yr is, at 30.1 billion rupees ($362 million), solely 46% greater than the working funds of the USA’s largest artwork museum, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Artwork.
The museum opened with four exhibitions largely drawn from its 60,000-item collection.

The museum opened with 4 exhibitions largely drawn from its 60,000-item assortment. Credit score: Krishna Tangirala/Museum of Artwork & Pictures, Bangalore

Past Poddar’s private contributions, and in lieu of an acquisition funds, the remainder of MAP’s assortment contains presents from philanthropists and different donors. The founder estimates that ticket gross sales will cowl “barely 10%” of the museum’s prices, with sponsorship and donations making up a lot of the shortfall.

However whereas Poddar acknowledges that arts and tradition hardly register on what he calls India’s “hierarchy of wants,” he sees funding within the sector as important for preserving cultural heritage. He in contrast the lack of India’s inventive traditions to “an animal going extinct.”

“I believe it is time we began taking a look at this much more significantly, as a rustic and as a folks,” he stated. “This isn’t one individual’s, one group’s or group’s area — it is for all of us.”

Seen/Invisible: Illustration of Ladies in Artwork via the MAP Assortment” is displaying on the MAP Museum of Artwork and Pictures in Bengaluru till Dec. 1, 2025.

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