Children in urban India interact differently with the world around them. Their touch is often with a phone, their sight tuned into a P3 set or the television and their ears often shut when told what they should not be doing rather than what they can. Now, an interactive exhibition at the National Museum, Delhi, points them in another direction. Away from the clutter of wires and gadgets, this month-long project allows them to interact with objects that stimulate the five senses, and propel curiosity.
“Children today have become passive viewers, sitting back with popcorn and staring into television and computer screens. This project will get them involved, and make them do things, without which they won’t be able to move ahead in the puzzle,” says Delhi-based puppeteer and storyteller Anurupa Roy, who has conceived the show titled “Elements”.
Split into five sections, the tunnel-riddled walkways and specially-lit attics prompt a 45-minute journey without the aid of anything virtual or an elder telling children what to do next. “Elements” begins with a painting and moulding space at the art room, where children can create sculptures out of cardboard pieces, shreds of coloured paper, paint, thread and wool. Once they are done here, a small tunnel leads
them to the main exhibit area. Roy says, “The art room was added as an after-thought since children are used to fast-paced urban living. This needed calm will coax them in a creative manner, to allow for the sensory experience that lies ahead.”
Once they cross the tunnel, a cupboard, a maze, a music room and a texture walk await them before they reach the feedback space that has papers to sketch and write. The cupboard features drawers of taste, smell, sound and even magic. “The only way to get to the next room is by entering a cupboard,” says Das. There’s also a jigsaw puzzle inspired by a miniature on display at the museum. While the art room can accommodate 25 children at a time, the other chambers permit a group of three.
The strictly-for-children event has been organised by Kolkata-based Think Arts, who create imaginative and out-of-the-box experiences for children. Ruchira Das, founder of Think Arts, says, “This space provides the child with uninhibited and unpatterned activities. That is why we discourage the entry of elders, whose company tends to impede imagination by imposing set notions on the fresh minds.”
The exhibition coincides with summer vacations, and is targeted at children, aged 6-12. Das says they have conducted “Elements” twice in Kolkata — first in December 2014 and then in April this year. “The most sought-after section has been the texture walk,” she says, referring to trays in which children can walk over different materials such as mat, cotton, sand, pebbles, foam, sawdust and coloured powder. “Most of our children today have not walked barefoot. They don’t know how sand or grass feels under their feet,” says Das.