After three years in the making, the highly-anticipated exhibition ‘India and the World: A History in Nine Stories’ opens at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) here on Saturday, November 11. It is the result of a collaboration between the CSMVS, the National Museum, Delhi and the British Museum, London and is believed to be the first-of-its-kind model for sharing collections between cultural institutions.
Of the 228 objects on display, 124 are on loan from the British Museum, including iconic pieces like ‘The Townley Discobolus’, a famous sculpture from the ancient world, and a copy of ‘Durer’s Rhinoceros’, made by German printmaker Albrecht Durer in 1515. Many other artefacts have been loaned by Indian museums such as the National Museum, the Bihar Museum in Patna, Government Museum and Art Gallery in Chandigarh and Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata.
At a preview today, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, director general CSMVS, said that the exhibition is designed to “present India’s glorious past, in relation to a global context, through the use iconic historical objects, put in conversation with each other.”
Dr Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum, present at the preview, described the exhibition as a “major cultural, artistic, intellectual and political achievement.” He said, “It highlights what is at the heart of human development — exchange, exploring the world, meeting other people and being open to the idea of other faiths and ways of life and incorporating them into our lives.”
The exhibition is divided into nine “stories” or sections – Shared Beginnings, First Cities, Empire, State and Faith, Picturing the Divine, Indian Ocean Traders, Court Cultures, Quest for Freedom and Time Unbound. “Each section has a particular theme which enables you to see what was happening in India and in the rest of the world at the same time. So you see the differences, but you also see the similarities,” said JD Hill, curator at the British Museum, who has co-curated ‘India and the World’ with Delhi-based art historian Naman Ahuja.
The first section opens, for example, with a display that places the famous Olduvai Hand-axe from the British Museum’s collection alongside a hand-axe excavated from Attirampakkam in Tamil Nadu, one of the first stone age sites to be discovered in the world. The hand-axe was one of the longest-used tools in history, having been used for over a million years, and is today considered a technological marvel of the prehistoric age. By placing these two hand-axes next to each other, along with examples from Europe, South-East Asia and the Middle East in the next display, the exhibition highlights the history that India shares with the world.
Further in the exhibition are objects that tell other stories to the same end — scraps of Indian cotton fabric recovered from Egypt, different representations of the Buddha from India and other parts of the world, a stone statue of Ganesha from Indonesia and a tiny figure of the Greek God of the sea, Poseidon, recovered from Brahmapuri in Maharashtra. “It (the exhibition) demonstrates how the intertwined relations of diverse cultural traditions are manifest in individual cultural artifacts of the greatest rarity,” says Dr James Cuno, president and CEO of the J Paul Getty Trust which, along with Tata Trusts, is supporting the exhibition. The exhibition is on till February 18, after which it will travel to the National Museum in Delhi.