World Book Day 2019: Museum Books!

Today is World Book Day 2019! To mark the day, three fellows have written for the network to share with us all some recommendations of books related to museums…

IMG_20190305_210509Namrata Sarmah, Assam State Museum (ITP 2018, India)
Museums and Memory, edited by Susan A. Crane (Stanford University Press)

Accumulated knowledge is a powerful institution against the status quo. For centuries, authoritarian and reactionary regimes have burnt and banned books, and destroyed libraries and museums, to stifle unhindered dissemination of thought. History is witness to instances of biblioclasm in the Roman Empire, in Central America, in Nazi-occupied Europe, and during the conflicts in Middle-East. In the present day, our values of tolerance, diversity and democracy are increasingly under threat from polarising forces. Hence, there is an urgent need to ensure that our tangible and intangible repositories of knowledge are safeguarded from such assault. World Book Day is one such endeavour through which the collective intellectual heritage of our planet can be nurtured.

The Pacific island-nation of Fiji has a tradition called Tanaloa. It is a method of dialogical storytelling through which communities share their ideas, skills and lived experiences with each other in an inclusive platform. On World Book Day, we may adopt such an approach to share our stories with our friends, family and colleagues, to tell each other about our favourite books and why we love them. As a museum professional, the first volume that comes to my mind is Museums and Memory, a collection of essays edited by Susan A. Crane.

Many of us are familiar with the 2006 fantasy-comedy movie Night at the Museum. Adopted from a Croatian children’s book, the movie’s light-hearted plot involves a museum where dinosaurs and mummies come alive at night and wreak havoc. While not exactly a cinematic masterpiece, the movie got one thing right: museums are chaotic spaces. Museum Studies as a discipline is dedicated to understanding and negotiating this chaos. And the essays in Museums and Memory masterfully unveil the factors involved in the making of this chaos.

There is no dearth of material that tries to engage with the intellectual history of museums. And yet, there is a novelty in the essays of this volume, in terms of their methods of engaging. Most of them approach museums as how they have registered in the memory of their constituent demographics: professionals, visitors, readers and other groups of audiences. In short, the book addresses how museums and memory shape each other. Uncovering museum spaces as imaginations that have sustained in the interstices of myriad lived experiences is crucial to understanding museums as transmitters of collective knowledge.

The most noteworthy aspect about the book is that it asserts the diversity of both museum spaces and memories. Museums are not merely tangible institutional structures but they also exist in people’s ‘remembered and lived experiences’ as well as in organisational schema that inform identity and knowledge. Similarly, memories can be personal, collective, shared and dynamic in terms of the meanings they invoke. The interplay of museums spaces and the memories involved in their making inform numerous collective ideological projects in which modern states, civil societies and non-state actors invest. And because of this, controlling the contestations and negotiations embedded in museum spaces is vital to controlling narratives that invoke pasts and primordial identities. The essence of Museums and Memory lies in the skillful exposition of this tussle. At the same time, the volume can also be read as an intervention in methodological debates, in the face of an international boom in emergence of museums and the rise in audience participation.

IMG_6228Saeed Bayashoot, Seiyun Museum (ITP 2016, Yemen)
Running A Museum: A Practical Handbook, edited by Patrick Boylan (ICOM) 

I’m probably not the only one whose bookshelf is looking dusty! According to a survey conducted by the Reading Agency, 31% of people don’t read in their free time, rising to 46% of young people aged between 16 to 24.

In my spare time I am interested in reading books, and ever since I have worked in the museum, I am occupied with extending my knowledge on museum subjects. One of the most interesting books that has fascinated me is Running a Museum: A Practical Handbook, which was published by the ICOM and edited by  Partick  Boylan, and exists in multiple language version. It is not surprising that most of the practical guides about museums are written in English, and I am lucky to have a hard copy in Arabic translation.

It is one of the most important references in Museums Studies, and it has provided me with an overview and insight of all key aspects of museum operations. The book  addresses all the basic concerns of museums including acquisitions, storage, documentation, restoration, ethics, education, visitor management, employee management, facilities, security and disaster planning, marketing, and theft and detection of illicit goods. At many points the reader will find practical exercises and important issues highlighted.

This book is an impressive work in terms of museum management.

IMG_20190304_220129Pankaj Protim Bordoloi, Rashtrapati Bhavan Museum (ITP 2018, India)
M. V. Dhurndhar: The Romantic Realist, Suhas Bahulkar (DAG Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi)

Recently, the National Gallery of Modern Art in Mumbai organised an exhibition about one of India’s finest realist and popular academic artists (after Raja Ravi Varma and Rao Bahadur): Mahadev Vishwanath Dhurandhar. M.V. Dhurandhar played an important role in the history of Indian art especially in the genre of academic realism of the late 19th & 20th centuries. His vast works included portraits, landscapes, posters, prints, book illustrations, literature on art, and black and white drawings.

The catalogue was published on the occasion of the retrospective exhibition titled M. V. Dhurandhar: The Romantic Realist, which marked  150 years since the birth of the great artist. Suhas Bahulkar – who himself is a prolific painter of recent times – conceptualised, researched and wrote this catalogue.

This book contains a lengthy, illustrated and detailed write-up titled ‘Master Artist of India’s Colonial Era’. Suhas Bahulkar has put his years of research and knowledge about this great artist in this write-up and opened a new horizon of understanding about his work. From how this great artist first got noticed in 1892 for his composition titled Household Work (which revealed his keen understanding of the play of light and shade, and highlighted the innate talent of the then student-artist of Sir J.J. School of Art) to his first encounter in 1896 with one of his formative inspirations, Raja Ravi Varma (where the latter praised him for his oil painting titled The Music Lesson), this write up provides an in depth detail of his artistic journey.

The book contains high-quality images with all details of the work from his early studies to other important aspects of the time. With titles including The Great Indian Narratives, The Art of Portraiture, The Female Muse, The Prolific Sketcher, Artist of the Raj etc, the plates provides an elaborated expression of his art. The book contains images of some of the works of his predecessors, establishing his connection with the works of Abalall Rahiman (court painter of the Kolhapur Royal Family), watercolours of John Griffiths, (principal of J.J. School of Art) and oleographs of Raja Ravi Varma (which were extremely popular at that time, and who was someone Dhurandhar looked up to for style as well as direction). His training under Pestonji Bomanji in oil painting was also to stand him in good stead in his chosen career.

This book provides extensive detail of the journey of Indian visual art after Raja Ravi Varma and how it has shaped under the influence of M. V. Dhurandhar. He was regarded as the second most popular Indian artist in the first half of the 19th century, and created a varied and large body of work that includes, among other themes, Indian mythological and historical subjects.

The comprehensive text written by Suhas Bahulkar is a reading delight in a much-awaited book that evokes the atmosphere of British India in which Dhurandhar painted and found fame. This book is a prized possession for Art History students, art gallery and museum professionals, and all those with a keen interest in Indian visual art.