Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Circumambulating the history of time

By Beverly Pereira
Photography: Noshir Gobhai & Ishita Parikh; courtesy SNK
Read Time: 3 mins 
"discobulus india and the world CSMVS SNK indiaartndesign"
'India & the world' exhibition at CSMVS Museum, Mumbai (inset) Architects & Exhibition Designers, Brinda Somaya & Nandini Sampat

Transition spaces hold poignant reflection as connecting links, as they silver-tongue India’s awe-inspiring historical narrative at the ongoing ‘India and the World: A History in Nine Stories’ exhibition at the CSMVS, Mumbai…

The din of the outside world ceased to exist, when I entered a dark corridor and set sight on two stone hand axes from India and Tanzania glistening in the distance, beckoning to be ‘discovered’. The singular radiance of these and other objects like pottery, once found in dark caves, but now sharing an ephemeral space within these coarsely-textured, contoured walls… reminiscent of the ancient city of Petra. 

"entrance india and the world CSMVS SNK indiaartndesign"
"entrance vestibule india and the world CSMVS SNK indiaartndesign"

Stepping from one object of intrigue to another, I silently acknowledged a seamless spatial sequence that was taking me through the exhibition, wholesomely engaging me in an immersive, uninterrupted viewing experience. Every one of the 200 objects and works of art from museums in the Indian subcontinent and the British Museum in London are placed in a state of juxtaposition, always in dialogue with each other. 

"shared beginnings india and the world CSMVS SNK indiaartndesign"
"undulating walls india and the world CSMVS SNK indiaartndesign"

Architects Brinda Somaya and Nandini Sampat of Somaya & Kalappa Consultants, who are the exhibition designers for this imagistic sumptuousness have attempted to create a visual metaphor for the cyclical nature of time using the metonymy museum design technique. The result: the exhibition generates a collective narrative - that of the story of ‘Time’ as seen through the lens of India against the backdrop of similar occurrences in other parts of the world - even as it offers an insight into the story behind each of its 200-odd objects.

The meticulous design of the broad sections - from the prehistoric period to the present - is an exercise in congruence and context. Defined by one-off atmospheres and accentuated by colours, textures and theme-based elements, spaces carry a unique narrative. For example, the placement of deep-red panels with graphic ornate columns and two gateway objects - fragmented pillars from the Mauryan and Achaemenid Persian empires - marks the emergence of scale and grandeur in the age of empires. 

"towards blue india and the world CSMVS SNK indiaartndesign"

In stark contrast, the neutral silver-grey background of the ‘State and Faith’ section highlights precious coins plastered with the imagery of rulers and their faith. In ‘Picturing the Divine’, each religious sculpture commands attention; yet, converses with the other. 

"blue room india and the world CSMVS SNK indiaartndesign"
"blue india and the world CSMVS SNK indiaartndesign"

Further along, a deep blue room brimming with porcelain, textiles and tomb stones chronicles the dissemination of knowledge, culture and tradition thanks to maritime trade via the Indian Ocean; while a stately grey-washed space holds objects from Indian courts mirrored by objects from foreign courts, segregated by an archway.

"transition space india and the world CSMVS SNK indiaartndesign"

As I move up the stairs into the next all-white space interspersed with meshes, the narrative depicting globalization and transparency, it dawns on me - it is at junctions such as these that the whole point of the exhibition becomes clear. 

"exhibition india and the world CSMVS SNK indiaartndesign"

It is not the history of India. It is but one of the historical discourses of India interpolated against the relatable happenings around the world during the same time-frame. Viewing the objects in juxtaposition thus, makes for mesmeric delight for a history and culture buff like me. 

"last sculpture india and the world CSMVS SNK indiaartndesign"

I see myself approaching darkness, once again - the feeling unlike that tangible moment of discovery in the cavernous first section. My mind floats through the all-black space of ‘Time Unbound’, where LN Thallur’s Unicode, surrounded by mirrors and darkness, augments this seemingly infinite nature of time. I stand. I stare. I imbibe…slowly making way to exit the vortex, and once again encounter the chaotic realities of our world.  

Exhibition: India & the world: a history in nine stories
Venue: CSMVS Museum, 159-161, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Fort, Mumbai- 400032
Dates: Nov. 11 – Feb.18, 2017
Timing: 10.15 am – 6 pm

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