The ‘Dying Princess’, an oil on canvas by V Bhushan, is arresting in its imagery and expression. Before art lovers move to view another masterpiece at the Government Museum in Sector 10, they stop to hear the fascinating story of the painting, from the Jataka Tales, on how the Buddha took the form of an elephant and spoke in human language to give his tusk to save the dying princess, his wife from previous birth. The story makes the visitors turn around and look at the painting and the symbols with new curiosity.
“Each work here has a history and story and as an art historian and researcher, I have been documenting the tangible and intangible aspects of this and other museums for years now. It’s a passion and I now want to take it forward by introducing the heritage of this museum to the people of the city, visitors and tourists, as well as students of government schools,’’ explains Seema Bhalla, who has been studying the rich collection here for years.
From this month, Bhalla is starting ‘know your heritage’ walks in the museum to make people aware of their art and heritage and, more importantly, get them closer and relate to the rich collection of Gandharan sculptures, Pahari and Rajasthani miniature paintings, sculptures and the contemporary art collection.
The Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh, owes its existence to the Partition of the country in August 1947. Before the Partition, the collection was housed in the Central Museum, Lahore, the then capital of Punjab. The idea of the heritage walk, adds Bhalla, is to make the visit an absorbing and interesting experience by talking about varied aspects of the works, their history, the life of the artist who created these and the many stories attached to these works.
The walks will be in Hindi, English and French, and Bhalla is keen to do customised sessions for government schoolchildren, the idea being to get them interested in art early in life and appreciate its nuances. “Architecture and art are closely connected, and after the buildings, people want to know the city’s art. This is one of the largest museums in the country, one of the few buildings designed by Corbusier and a micro-organism of his architecture.
We can really promote it by developing the curiosity of the people. Showing DVDs, narrating stories, demystifying art are some of the ways I will use to promote the institution and the heritage of the city,’’ says Bhalla.
Refraining from using academic jargon which makes museum visits monotonous, Bhalla has plans to bring forth new dimensions of the museum, like the textile collection, including Phulkari, Gandhara sculptures that India received as her share of the Lahore Museum’s collection at the time of Partition, copies of murals in Ajanta, and the numerous panels visualising Buddhist narratives, some of a rare variety. “I will assess the group, and then accordingly customise the walk, and extend it to the other parts of the museum and areas in the city. This is something I am really looking forward to,’’ she adds.