Beyond Museums: A thought arose during pandemic..

I would like to congratulate all of you today on 18th May, on the occasion of International Museum Day. It is a pleasure for all of us to be  responsible museum professionals in the service of the society. Every year worldwide, this day is celebrated in a certain ways, considering the theme proposed by International Council of Museums. This year 2020 is however being different for all of us. Along with adapting ourselves to the new life, compelling us to re place the museums in a different plane, and making us to re think,  what can be the next, what is there further or what is beyond! 

Personally, it leads me to think on the line of redefining the role of museums. in this process museums becoming ‘inclusive’ at the same time widening their horizons. 

The other day I was remembering seeing an exhibition called ‘Another India’ in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge.There was a display on musical tradition of Bhil community of India. It was a beautiful display with audio visual effects. The whole showcase was so finely presented with the objects and the audio visual supplements. It was so wonderful to think that dance and songs are seen as the key repositories of indigenous people’s history, heritage and sense of identity. Of course, the use of audio-visual material in museum display is a widely accepted phenomenon. They are ‘speaking material’ which accomplish the objectives of the display to make people perceive with enjoyment. There was nothing as such different. But my association that time with the National Sound Archive, British Library helped me to understand how that museum was collaborating with the sound archive, how they were sharing the information, how they were enhancing their database by sharing their knowledge. I remember how the museum and the archive considered themselves as knowledge repositories and was working as a network.

My that experience, which was all the way back in 2018, helping me to make an attempt in today’s situation to re define another role of museums. This attempt is more towards new museological approach involving communities at the same time involving other resource centres like Archives and similar repositories. well, New Museological approaches are frequently adapted in a conventional museum today, besides, Organising workshops among the community members, meeting community representatives and other such activities of the museums have always been successful in creating a sense of belonging to the heritage they represent. And we all know that such activities also contribute towards generating preservation awareness among the communities. 

What if we collaborate in this process, with other repositories? How about thinking in the same line I mentioned for musical traditions used in Museum of archaeology and anthropology – showcasing resonant association of material culture and the musical heritage? This also leads to the question, how to connect the material culture (tangible heritage) with the musical heritage (intangible heritage)?

Here to be mentioned that museums or audio-visual archives or similar repositories worldwide, have been playing a major role in documentation, preservation and dissemination of both tangible and intangible heritage of a society. But here comes the question, what is beyond? In other words, what could be the role of a museum beyond preservation of knowledge and being an arbitrator? Hence, the opportunity of re-connection appears. Re-connecting knowledge or resources of various archives or museums, with the communities might be considered as the opportunity to re-circulate the knowledge. This can be the social responsibility of these organisations instead of just being repositories and equally valid for museums, archives, or such similar institutions. The New Museology theory propagates community involvement. It talks about the journey of museums from objects to people, contextualising rather than displaying an object in a glass showcase in a conventional museum structure. 

Thus it is clear that be it a museum or an archive, the knowledge repositories need to engage communities in preserving the heritage for continuity. Again, engaging communities might not be limited to giving back the communities their objects or recordings. The process has to be re-circulated. It is the re-circulation of knowledge. Here for example if we consider the Vrindabani Vastra which is with British Museum, London, if we exchange some more interesting facts associated with that Vastra, and say if we connect that with some other historical textiles preserved with Assam State museum? And say connect that with some historical recordings preserved in Archives and research centre for ethnomusicology, American institute of Indian studies, Gurgaon, thereby enhancing the resources of both the museums and archives. In this case, this will be an international collaboration, in other words, re-connecting resources and communities beyond national boundaries.The outcome of re-connecting these resources finally will get updated in the knowledge bank of all the three repositories and will be accessible to the wider users. Thus knowledge gets re-circulated through the re-connection. Repositories get re-united, thereby enhancing the strengths and opportunities beyond museums! 

a thought arose during pandemic..

4 Replies to “Beyond Museums: A thought arose during pandemic..”

  1. Of course your idea of re-connecting museums and re-circulating knowledge is so important and very timely in our current situation of this coronavirus pandemic. I understand UNESCO fears that as many as 1 in 8 museums may not re-open as a result of Covid-19. Your idea of re-connecting could thus be key to preventing the total loss of these museums, their content and the knowledge that springs therefrom. We are lucky in that sense to live in the age of the Internet, which can allow us virtual access to museum treasures and documents even if the physical home of a collection proves no longer sustainable.
    Re-connection between repositories, whether in obvious associations or new configurations, is valuable in another sense you suggest, the re-circulation of knowledge. Knowledge is never complete, nor is any one domain the source of total knowledge. Linking collections and archives allows each to consider their own treasures in comparison with others, in order to understand their own treasures in a new way, filling in gaps perhaps and generating new knowledge when the combined collections of that configuration are seen in conjunction. In this sense, every museum has a vital contribution to make.
    Involving the community is essential also. Museums tell us who we are, and where we come from. We need to re-connect with them, cherish them and take advantage of any access, because we would be so much poorer without them.
    But beyond the museums and galleries of our own heritage, one lifetime is simply not long enough to visit the repositories of all the other heritages, many of which will have influenced our own. Our only window onto all that richness is thus through the connections and re-connections museums make for us, across time and distance, between our own community and that of our fellows.

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