ITP+ Mumbai: Reflections on project work from co-organiser and participant Vaidehi Savnal (ITP 2016, India)

Vaidehi Savnal (ITP 2016, India) Assistant Curator (International Engagement), CSMVS

The final morning began with a rush of positivity with Tim Corum (Horniman Museum and Gardens) and I spotting a kingfisher perched on the branches of a majestic date palm. The kingfisher, harbinger of good fortune and positive energy seemed a happy conclusion to a morning where all participants had split up into pairs, and wondered about the museum lawns while talking about our experiences and inspirations from the last two days. The Horniman Museum and Gardens and the CSMVS had much in common as we came to realise during our conversation and our idea of bringing together youth from global communities in working on a common project shows promise.


We went back to working in our groups soon after, each of us bringing in a new vigour buoyed by conversations from the morning.

The idea of a museum as a safe place, unprejudiced and inclusive also poses a challenge in that the museum then has greater responsibility towards its visitors. To allow for diverse voices to be heard while using its unique position to communicate values that hold true in the world we inhabit today. Children and Objects were two keywords that emerged, that helped my workshop group find a sense of resolution.

Children have a profound inherent sense of fairness and impartiality and the ability to look at the world through an untinted lens. It is this very quality that needs to be enriched and sustained as they grow, and a museum, through its objects can do just that.
India as an emerging nation in the modern world has been battling with several issues that result from friction caused by the interaction of new with old. We are poised to take on the new expectations of the world while remaining rooted in our cultural values. This however can be a tricky balance to maintain and this is how the idea of appealing to young minds about the notion of diversity emerged.

We chose to look at diversity through the frame of inclusion. The idea that no two people may be the same or even prescribe to societal constructs of right and wrong and encouraging children to themselves come to an understanding of differences, beginning to value and respect them. Diversity in this sense could then be looked at in terms of gender roles or orientation, special needs groups, religion and body image to name a few. While these differences may appear to exist in the first instance, there is an innate commonality in our shared histories, of the way societies have moved forward in their understanding and representation of the world around them. Museum objects have tremendous power to stimulate a viewer in many ways.

As Dr. Fischer (Director, British Museum ) put it, “Not only do you get absorbed by an object, an object begins to absorb you”. It is more of a mutual learning that takes place. Objects aren’t really inanimate and that’s the real magic. Our group chose to look at teachers as the medium through which the museum can reach out to children. Teachers are probably the singular adult that children spend such a large amount of time with that are in a position of influence in a child’s life. By offering orientation programmes to teachers and starting small, just one class at a time, we hope to be able to create a body of museum conscious children. In the museum they would find the opportunity to engage with collections that would draw them out on subjects that they may have been curious about but may not have had a chance to speak of.

To quote Faulkner, “The past isn’t dead. It’s not even past”. It is this past that peeps out to us in the present and allows us to find a degree of equilibrium in our sense of self. And that these emotions that emerge from engaging with an object would in some way allow the next generation to grow in a more unrestrained manner with deep respect and acceptance of others globally.