Bengaluru’s New Museum

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The city of Bengaluru in Southern India has a new private museum, the Museum of Art and Photography. Asian Art Newspaper looks at its mission and collections before its virtual opening this December.

The new Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) in Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) is set to receive a collection of 464 objects from the Barbara Kipper Collection in New York. Work on the new museum, due to physically open in December 2020, but is now scheduled for 2021, due to coronavirus restrictions. This gift from the Kipper Collection follows promised gifts to the Art Institute of Chicago, The Metropolitan Museum in New York, and the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. The collection includes over 1,300 objects dating from the 7th century to the 1950s, collected from countries bordering the Silk Road, including a large number of gau (an amulet or portable shrines, used for protection on perilous journeys and often gifted to monasteries) its silhouette consciously evokes the shape of a single lotus petal, which is a symbol of purity. It is formed as a box so the contents can be individually created and re-created. Also in the collection are women’s ornaments, including necklaces, earrings and headdresses, plus a number of ritualistic items.

Barbara Kipper Collection

As a young woman, Barbara Kipper was fascinated by the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem Kubla Khan (1797) and the Oriental sets and costumes of the Paris-based Ballet Russes, whose artistic director created such ‘exotic’ ballets as Scheherazade, Les Orientals, and Le Dieu Bleu. Today, she recognises these as ‘Western Orientalist imaginings of the East, not grounded in scholarship of the region, and certainly not academically respected,’ but it was a fascination that grew with her first three-month trip to Asia in 1968. During 30 years of collecting, with the help of her late husband, David, she has assembled a diverse collection of personal artefacts that represented the disappearing nomadic and tribal cultures of Central and South Asia, including Tibetan objects and other regional jewellery, including southwest China.

New Museum of Art and Photography

MAP will be South India’s first major private art museum and is located in Bengaluru, the capital of Karnataka state. The museum’s mission is to take art and culture to the heart of the community by making the museum accessible to diverse audiences. It will achieve this by exhibiting, interpreting and preserving India’s rich artistic heritage in a wide-ranging programme of events, exhibitions, and performances. The five-storey building will include art galleries, an auditorium, an art and research library, an education centre, a specialised research and conservation facility, as well as a cafe. The museum already has a strong online presence, and is custodian to a growing collection of over 18,000 works of art, predominantly from South Asia and dating from the 10th century to the present. It is one of the most diverse and important collections in India. A special highlight is its seminal collection of historical and contemporary photography and popular culture, which is rare for an Indian museum. MAP’s collection can be categorised into six key genres: Pre-Modern Art, Modern & Contemporary, Photography, Folk & Tribal, Popular Culture, and Textiles, Craft & Design.

Kipper Collection of Asian Jewellery

MAP Director, Kamini Sawhney, said of the promised gift, ‘These unique pieces of jewellery in the Kipper Collection are significant because they represent cultures that, even at the time of collecting them, were fast disappearing due to social, economic, and political changes. MAP is honoured not only to receive this important gift, but to have Barbara Kipper join our group of Founding Circle members through her generous donation to the museum in addition to the gift of the jewellery’.

Indian Art at Museum of Art and Photography

The Pre-Modern Art collection holds some of the most exemplary works of Indian art. Among its highlights are manuscript paintings, including masterpieces from the Mughal, Jain, Rajput and Pahari school traditions; Chola bronzes; temple art from Southern India; as well as Mysore and Tanjore paintings. The collection also comprises art works that are generally considered beyond the canonical framework of Indian art history, such as pichhavai paintings (large Hindu devotional paintings normally on cloth) and paithan paintings (story-telling paintings often used by itinerant bards that are typical of the Andhra Pradesh/Karnataka border area), encouraging a broader definition of ‘Indian Art’ and serving to link historical art to contemporary practice.

Modern and Contemporary Art at Museum of Art and Photography

The Modern and Contemporary Art showcase offers a wide cross-section of the most significant trends and movements in Pre- and Post-Independence Indian Art. Among the internationally respected artists represented in MAP’s wide-ranging collection are Jamini Roy, Bhupen Khakhar, Jyoti Bhatt, Mrinalini Mukherjee, Ravinder Reddy, Ravi Varma, Rabindranath Tagore, Abanindranath Tagore, Benode Behari Mukherjee, Ramkinkar Baij, MF Husain, J Swaminathan, VS Gaitonde, KG Subramanian, Atul Dodiya, Jitish Kallat, Mithu Sen and Riyas Komu.

Extensive Photography Collection at Museum of Art and Photography

The most extensive is the Photography Collection, considered one of the finest in the country, which spans the history of the art to the present day, and includes works by 19th- century by photographers such as Samuel Bourne, John Burke, Francis Frith, William Johnson, Colin Roderick Murray, John Edward Saché, Charles Shepherd, E Taurines and Raja Deen Dayal; to 20th-century prints by significant photographers, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Marc Riboud, Martine Franck, Raghu Rai and TS Satyan. Additionally, the inclusion of contemporary Indian photographers, such as Dayanita Singh, Vivek Vilasini and Gauri Gill, make this a comprehensive collection that is a valuable source for researchers and visitors to the museum alike.

The Folk and Tribal Art section of the museum displays a wide range of India’s regional communal artistic practices. The showcase includes relatively under-appreciated traditions such as patua scrolls from Bengal, shadow puppets from southern India, Bhuta idols from Karnataka, and religious terracotta artefacts from Tamil Nadu. It also comprises works by some of India’s best-known contemporary artists, such as Jangarh Singh Shyam, Warli paintings by Jivya Soma Mashe, and Mithila paintings by Baua Devi.

MAP’s textiles, craft and design collection includes important examples of textile traditions of the subcontinent, such as patolas, chintz hangings, kalamkaris, pahari rumaals, phulkaris and kanthas, in addition to works representative of many other techniques and styles. It is also home to a variety of decorative arts such as furniture, design, and jewellery that demonstrate the extraordinary technical expertise of Indian artisans working in these fields.

Museum of Art and Photography’s Virtual Launch in December 2020

For the last three years, the museum has been organising a variety of education and outreach programmes in the local community, whilst the construction of the museum has been in progress. Despite the postponement of the opening of the physical museum, MAP has been busy. It will officially launch digitally on 5 December. embarking on the challenges of the new environment and creating an opportunity to reach global audiences. To mark its launch, MAP will present a week-long virtual programme of events Art (is) Life and inaugurate their ‘Museums without Borders’ initiative with performances in music, dance, poetry and technology, by leading professionals, including art historian Dr B N Goswamy, filmmaker Nandita Das, and artist, Jitish Kallat. Each consequent day of the programme will celebrate one of the six departments of the museum’s collection and be accompanied by a commissioned performance at 7pm IST/1.30pm GMT.

The Story of Bangaluru

There is also a new addition to the Bengaluru cityscape – the façade of MAP on Kasturba Road has been transformed into a large, colourful mural by local artists during the construction of the museum, brought to life by the local Aravani Art Project and entitled The Story of Bangalore. The museum’s online offerings including talks, collections, a blog, searchable database and a children’s education area.

Museum of Art & Photography, Bengaluru, map-india.org