The “India and the World,” exhibition, which landed at the CSMVS exactly a year ago, abounded in riches of every kind. 230 objects spread across 5000 years ,included Rembrandt’s Mughal sketch, an Ashokan edict, the Greek Discobulus and Poseidon sculptures narrated India’s encounters with the world – and set the stage for a dialogue on curating encyclopaedic exhibitions in India!

The first blockbuster museum show – if we may so label it – was a traveling loan of  objects from 28 different museums that brought in 2,00,000 visitors in Mumbai, and raised the Indian public’s expectations of museums. Add wonderful merchandise, a curated set of activities; a mobile-museum…and CSMVS had definitely raised the bar.

Read on to know how CSMVS created a spectacular blockbuster exhibition giving us India & the World:

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How does a Museum tell the story of Time?

Through 9 seamless galleries and themes the exhibition presented a multi-layered narrative about the different times humans have lived in; and conquered.

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Before economists introduced the term “globalisation” to denote a holistic view of human experience, there was pre-historic symbol for it : the hand-axe. As the story unfolds, there are many such objects one encounters, bringing us face to face with the “same, but different” ties that bind humanity.

Time isn’t cyclical or linear when it comes to the exhibition. For those who visited, if you think the exhibition ended with 9 galleries, think again. The exhibit poked the visitor, making them wonder about the new trends that will shape the shared human experience of the 21st century. Is it the countless wars? Is it money? Is it power?

In ceasing to remain just an experience – and going beyond historical chronologies, India and the World became an ongoing conversation; and therein lies the secret of it’s success.

An Engaging Visitor Experience

Creating immersive experiences for museum visitors is a challenge faced by museums worldwide. To ace the exhibition design is half the battle won, really; and India and the World was at the top of it’s game in this regard. None of the galleries stretched on too long. So each of the 9 stories were crisp – and with multiple aha-moments!

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Visitors had enough space to walk at their own pace without being in each others’ way – and definitely enough room to pose with their favourite artworks.

These access-friendly labels were so thoughtful, and a welcome-change from most exhibitions held in India.

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While the lighting and design team ensured great photography at the exhibition; there were interesting quizzes thrown in on screens, apart from curator-video-talks.

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To be honest, India and the World set forth a tradition of many firsts, but this one stole our hearts:

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A huge feedback-wall asking visitors about their favourite objects, probing them to ask questions and seeking related opinions. Taking these post-it feedback notes to analyse later was such an awesome idea.

Also Read: How this Curator used visitor-feedback to develop an Exhibition 

The objects : the Stars of the Blockbuster!

It is no doubt that bringing objects from different museums of India and Britain should be a case study in logistics management; but the different kinds of materials (paintings, textiles, stone, metal ) surely would need different treatments – even in display ? To the general visitor though, it all looks rich, pretty and definitely VERY instagrammable (special shout out to the lighting design team here)!

But did you know, there’s a full fledged Conservation team that worked round the clock to achieve a healthy-display of the objects?

History Learning through the Exhibition

In the Indian context, the study of history somehow is very detached. This exhibition though, put forth a “connected” history. How have we come to be what we are? What cultures or movements have influenced us? How have we, in turn, shaped global events? Downloadable activity sheets and Guided Tours aside, the exhibition came up with a special kids book (!!), in-gallery experience corners and regular workshops. But more than anything, it was the effort of taking this exhibition as far as Pune through the Museum on Wheels program (which had 1,60,000 visitors) that takes the cake.

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…one of the most remarkable outcomes of this exhibition was the shift in pedagogical approach – from a knowledge transmission approach to a much larger focus on the experiential approach – Bilwa Kulkarni (Education Officer, CSMVS)

Students got to plot trade routes, indulge in role-play and experience connections between different cultures. This exhibition definitely made history more fun.

We also experimented with using the Kids’ book in a Chandigarh Classroom, and followed it up with a quiz. It worked absolute wonders! With older students, we had them create art-responses to themes such as Technology, Politics and Trade.

Families at the India and the World exhibition

The Education department of CSMVS Mumbai is inarguably the best in the country. So for India and the World, it wasn’t too surprising to see the excellent lineup of engaging learning activities. What was amazing was the level of family-engagement. Demonstrations, storytelling festivals, and art programs carefully panned out across the exhibition-duration met with a great response from families.

 

Digital Engagement

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India and the World buzzed the online world too! Apart from it’s feature on the Google Art Project that made the exhibit highlights accessible to a larger audience; there was significant chatter on social media. For the first time (yet again), a Twitter quiz got audiences excited. One would expect an exhibition of this scale to “trend” at least on the first day of it’s opening – given the media buzz; and the huge number of people who attended. This exhibition however, set enough trends, and getting digital to shake up things might be a feat, another exhibition awaits 😉

Museums Going Global: A Shared Human Experience

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Photo: SNK India

Collaborative exhibitions aren’t new to CSMVS but India and the World was a different scale altogether. The feeling of spotting a small statue of Poseidon, a Greek figure – and realising that it is from a Museum in Kolhapur can perhaps translate the essence of this exhibition. But India and the World wasn’t just told by objects from India or Indian curators; there were objects from the British Museum as well. The “multilayered” nature of the exhibit probably finds roots in the diversity of the team that put it together.  The exhibition sets out to show us how knowledge transfers took place across the world for centuries. Almost on cue then, the team working on this exhibition perhaps has a 5th dimension to add : the experience of working on this exhibition, learning from each other regionally, and internationally. As conversations about museum and curatorial practices continue in the industry, India and the World is a wonderful example of what can be achieved if museums work collaboratively.

A note on the End Credits

Credits – one of those small things that make a huge difference.
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Credit where due : the entrance to the exhibition | Photo Source

It was overwhelming to see the mammoth teamwork that went into producing this exhibition. For students, or those aspiring to work at / with museums, this is the single most interesting “piece” – it shows the multiple ways in which you can be involved at a museum! It was quite endearing to see a team being acknowledged for it’s efforts – and that itself reflects the ethos of CSMVS as an institution.

The big takeaway from the India and the World exhibition

At a time when information is exchanged, and trends are spread within an “instant” across the globe, ‘India and the World’ provides a different lense to view the historical ways in which social relations have been practiced throughout a dynamic and ever-evolving world-time.

That’s how a museum exhibition tells the story of time.

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After this, we really can’t wait for another thought-provoking exhibition in India! Would you agree?


Have you visited the CSMVS Museum in Mumbai? If you do plan a visit, take a look at these must-see objects recommended by their Director, Mr. Sabyasachi Mukherjee.

The Heritage Lab is a digital platform connecting museums & citizens through campaigns, public-engagement programs & free access content for youth, families and kids.

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