CHANGE UNIVERSE: Magazine Jewels
Delhi | AttractionApril 8, 2009

Crafts Museum

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In every city I have visited during my life I have always managed to visit at least one of its museums, especially when it reflected the country's culture.

And because of my profession, having developed home and fashion accessories in this country for more than a decade, the decision on the last day of my stay to rush to the Craft Museum was taken very conscientiously.  I knew it was a must but had no idea the place, together with its shop, would turn out to be one of my favourites in the world, alongside the Musee de Quai Branly in Paris.  But what I like the most is a concept of its own.  I will explain.

The institution of the museum, aimed at housing objects of antiquity, is of Western origin.  Indians themselves did not have a tradition of setting up museums of fragmented sculptures, rusted swords and cut-out-of-context paintings.

Broken images were immersed in holy water, worn-out objects were left to decay and merge with the very earth from which they were created.

It is due to the continuous process of abandonment of the old and the reproduction of the new that the traditions of craftsmanship have formidably survived in India.

As India adopted a ready-made Western archaeological museum concept in the 19th century, it missed out the fact that, unlike the West, the 'past' and ' present' are not so severely divided in its case, and it therefore failed to give adequate importance in its museums to the evolving context of its culture -

The living practices of rituals, festivals, and weekly markets; picture-shows of itinerant storytellers; the materials, techniques and tools of  artisans;

the cultural changes and the attitude towards the past and the contemporary tradition as such.  It is this overlooked dimension of Indian culture which is emphasized in the concept of the craft museum.

The low-lying museum building most appropriate for displaying India's rural and tribal arts is designed by the renowned architect Charles Correa to act as a metaphor for an Indian village: street-affable, accommodating and active.

A walk across the crafts museum building would be through open and semi-open passages covered with slopping, tiled roofs aligned with old carved wooden Jharokhas, doors, windows, utensils and storage jars and perforated iron screens.

Through courtyards with domed pigeons houses adorned with arches and latticework panels, terracotta shrines dedicated to basil plants, massive temple chariots and vermilion-covered anicolic wait side altars, providing every now and then a peek through a window into vast museum galleries.

The museum's collection of about 22,000 objects covers a range of bronze images; lamps and incense burners; ritual accessories; utensils and other items of everyday use; wood and stone carving; papier mache; ivories; dolls, toys, puppets, and masks; jewelery; decorative metalware including Bidri work; paintings; terracottas and cane bamboo work.

The museum's rare collection includes carved figures of the Buddha, folk deities of coastal Kerala, tribal bronzes from Chattisgarth and carved architecture of Gujarat represented by a whole Haveli.

The village complex comprises 15 structures representing village dwellings, courtyards and shrines from Arunal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Orissa and the Andman Et Nicholas Islands.

What's impressive is that through your walk in the different facsimile regions built with regional material, you have the feeling you are voyaging through the whole country meeting with local masons, artisans, thatchers and carpenters.

In every hut or courtyard, day-to-day items are displayed a bit like in the industrial design floor at the MOma in New York.

By an informal estimate, there are more than 30 million weavers, craftspeople and folk artists living in India who posses inherited skills by which they earn their livelihood. In this program, the Museum invites about 50 craftspeople from all over the country to demonstrate their crafts and find new market opportunities.

The program apparently has proved to be extremely popular with school children, artists, designers, the craft trade and the art-loving public like myself and many of my colleagues from all over the world.

The puppet performance was divine.  I got all sorts of gift for my nephews, family and friends.  What a great place to spend a few hours in Delhi, touring India as a whole.  Certainly a must!

Joelle's Picks:

Bhairon Road, New Delhi 110001. Open 1000-1730hrs; Closed: Monday

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