An ITP Week in London for ‘Exhibiting the Experience of Empire’: Chithra Kallur (ITP 2017)

From 3 to 11 March 2018, two ITP fellows returned to the British Museum to participate in the symposium Exhibiting the Experience of Empire, organised by the British Museum’s Global, Local and Imperial Histories (GLIH) Research Group.

Chithra Kallur (ITP 2017, India) and Nelson Abiti (ITP 2013, Uganda) attended a one-week tailored short programme organised by the ITP around the symposium, to offer further support to their professional development and additional networking opportunities.

Hear from Chithra below about her experience.

Written by Chithra Kallur (ITP 2017, India), Head Archivist, Museum of Art and Photography, Bangalore

It was wonderful to be back in London and to reconnect with the ITP team and British Museum colleagues. Meeting other ITPers – Nelson Abiti (ITP 2013, Uganda) and Omar Nasser (ITP 2013, Palestine) – was a pleasant experience.

Chithra in the Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of China and South Asia

One of my objectives for this trip was to visit the refurbished Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of China and South Asia. The South Asian section covers the civilisational history of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Nepal from the time of earliest societies to the present day with interesting new narratives. This exhibition chronologically narrates the cultural history of the regions by bringing together lesser-known artistic practices, narrative traditions, and tales to go with the dynastic histories, religion, art,  architecture, trade histories, cultural interactions and so on.

My days at the BM were before the symposium were occupied with meetings with some of the staff members with whom I got to interact and get a lot of information about the methodologies of their work. Francesca Hillier (Central Archives), Jennifer Ramkalawon (Curator of Western Modern and Contemporary Graphic Works, Prints and Drawings) and Tanya Szrajber (Head of Documentation) were extremely welcoming and spared their precious time.  I was happy to have found some time to visit the Anthropology Library and Research Centre going through some of the microfilms related to the trustees’ records.

This trip was made special because of the visit to the ITP UK Partner Bristol Museums. I met Jayne Pucknell, Archivist, The British Empire and Commonwealth Collection, who warmly toured me around, showing me Bristol Archives. I also got to see some of the videos and photographic collection. Later I visited the exhibition Empire through the Lens at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, and interacted with Curator of World Cultures Sue Giles.

Exhibition view of Empire through the Lens

Empire Through the Lens exhibition, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery

The symposium at the British Museum addressed the aspects of Empire and Object and Displaying Empire. It brought to fore some of the key questions such as whose experience is looked at; how we can revisit the memories of invasion; possibilities of speaking about the histories of violence; the question of provenance and repatriation; thinking beyond the Empire and so on. Presentations by various speakers illustrated how every history of colonisation is so diverse and complex.

Chithra on the panel ‘Responses to the day’

I got to share some of my views on the panel discussion which I was part of. I also got to interact with many museum professionals and academics. To sum up, the conference brought to light different approaches that have been adapted by various curators and scholars dealing with histories of colonisation. I wish to see such events, especially within the museum circle in India and I presume they will bring out interesting dynamics to carry forward.

Illuminating India, Science Museum

My trip ended with some visits to some exhibitions in London: Illuminating India at the Science Museum and Ayurvedic Man: Encounters with Indian Medicine at the Wellcome Collection – to name a couple. Thanks to the Symposium organisers and the ITP team for giving me this opportunity.