Ex­hi­bi­tion Ways of Con­struct­ing

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In­dia & the World De­sign­ing spa­ces to tell sto­ries By So­maya & Kalappa Con­sul­tants (SNK)

In­dia and the World: A His­tory in Nine Sto­ries was a cru­cial ex­hi­bi­tion for the coun­try — an im­por­tant cu­ra­to­rial idea that called for care­ful diplo­matic ex­changes and man­age­ment be­tween key global in­sti­tu­tions. But an­other as­pect of this ex­hi­bi­tion, that gave life to a cu­ra­to­rial idea while manag­ing diplo­matic ex­changes sen­si­tively, was the de­sign of the ex­hi­bi­tion. The Mum­bai-based firm So­maya and Kalappa Con­sul­tants (SNK) played a piv­otal role as de­sign­ers in trans­form­ing such a sig­nif­i­cant idea and col­lab­o­ra­tion into a re­al­ity. The de­sign team put to­gether their un­der­stand­ing of space and scale, con­struc­tion and ma­te­ri­al­ity in full use while show­ing the mas­terly abil­ity to work with the con­cerns and needs of the cu­ra­tors and their thought pro­cesses. They sen­si­tively han­dled mat­ters such as mu­seum ad­min­is­tra­tion, in­stal­la­tion of ob­jects of in­ter­na­tional im­por­tance, as well as cre­at­ing a beau­ti­ful mould to tell the many in­ter­est­ing sto­ries. To tell the story of the de­sign­ers is like get­ting to know the soul of the ex­hi­bi­tion — un­seen yet play­ing a struc­tural role in bring­ing to life the his­tor­i­cal ideas and cu­ra­to­rial ab­strac­tions as well as manag­ing re­la­tions across in­sti­tu­tions and his­tor­i­cal ob­jects. Through the process draw­ings and doc­u­ments, it is ev­i­dent how the fi­nal ex­pe­ri­ence of the cu­ra­to­rial con­cept was so richly re­alised, ow­ing to the care­ful work of the de­signer and de­sign team. What the visi­tor then ex­pe­ri­ences is the set of ob­jects on dis­play and the sto­ry­line the cu­ra­tors wished to draw, while the work of the de­sign team re­cedes to its silent role. The ma­tu­rity and skill of the de­sign team is man­i­fest in the way they do not land up em­pha­sis­ing their own work, but let their work bring forth the ob­jects and the sto­ries the ex­hi­bi­tion was de­signed for. In this fea­ture, we let the de­sign­ers tell their story and show us the work that went be­hind the scenes of such a mon­u­men­tal ex­hi­bi­tion. We of­ten won­der about why we, mod­ern hu­mans, dress the way we do, so­cialise the way we do, be­lieve the way we do, or sim­ply live the way we do. The way man has evolved in var­i­ous as­pects of so­ci­ety and cul­ture through time has had an im­pos­ing im­pact on how we live to­day in dif­fer­ent parts of the in­ter­con­nected world. How­ever, we have rarely been able to point a fin­ger at these var­ied traits and how they im­pact the cor­ners of the world in sim­i­lar or unique ways. The ex­hi­bi­tion In­dia and the World: A His­tory in Nine Sto­ries at the CSMVS Mu­seum, Mum­bai, not only places them right in front of us but also con­nects and aptly jux­ta­poses the his­toric world with his­toric In­dia in a way never seen be­fore. These con­nec­tions light up

the mind and bring a sense of re­al­i­sa­tion and aware­ness of our rich past, un­like any other por­trayal of old arte­facts and sculp­tures. This is achieved largely due to the ex­haus­tive cu­ra­tion of ob­jects from all over the world com­bined with ex­cep­tional de­sign, light­ing and an ex­pe­ri­en­tial qual­ity of the ex­hi­bi­tion space, which al­most voy­ages one through time. To cel­e­brate 70 years of In­dian in­de­pen­dence, the Ch­ha­tra­p­ati Shivaji Ma­haraj Vastu San­gra­ha­laya (CSMVS), Mum­bai col­lab­o­rated with The Bri­tish Mu­seum, Lon­don and the Na­tional Mu­seum, New Delhi for this exquisite show. While ex­hi­bi­tions are pri­mar­ily planned for the dis­play of ob­jects, it is rare to see de­sign cre­at­ing an ar­tic­u­late syn­ergy be­tween the ideas that the ex­hi­bi­tion is at­tempt­ing to com­mu­ni­cate. The de­sign firm SNK had com­pleted the de­sign of the tex­tile gallery for the CSMVS in May 2015. One evening, Brinda So­maya, the Prin­ci­pal Ar­chi­tect of SNK re­ceived a call from the Di­rec­tor Gen­eral & Sec­re­tary of CSMVS, Sabyasachi Mukher­jee, ask­ing her if SNK would be in­ter­ested in be­ing the ex­hibiton de­sign­ers for an up­com­ing ex­hi­bi­tion — In­dia & the World. The jour­ney that fol­lowed led to So­maya and Kalappa Con­sul­tants be­ing en­trusted with ex­press­ing the story of the ex­hi­bi­tion through its de­sign that would bridge the ties In­dia has had with the world through cen­turies, while Prin­ci­pal De­signer of Light­ing De­sign Part­ner­ship, Dhru­va­jy­oti Ghose was em­pan­elled to breathe life into the ex­pe­ri­ence through light. Nan­dini Sam­pat of So­maya and Kalappa Con­sul­tants ex­plains, “In com­par­i­son to the first [set of] ideas that came to our minds, we felt a dis­creet con­nect with the metaphor cre­ated by the liv­ing root bridge in Mawlyn­nong, Megha­laya. It has stood the test of time and to­day is an epit­ome of the phys­i­cal ex­pres­sion of the con­nec­tion be­tween an­cient and mod­ern In­dia, as well as In­dia and the world.” While the cu­ra­tors of the ex­hi­bi­tion and the team at the CSMVS Mu­seum chron­i­cled the story of each ob­ject, ref­er­enc­ing its his­toric sig­nif­i­cance, the de­sign­ers be­gan to col­late a col­lec­tive nar­ra­tive of the con­cept to cre­ate a di­verse en­vi­ron­ment and pro­vide both con­text and prox­im­ity for the ob­jects on dis­play to con­verse with each other. The de­sign­ers wanted to of­fer an ex­pe­ri­en­tial jour­ney through time us­ing vis­ual nar­ra­tives based on metonymy mu­seum de­sign, which pri­mar­ily fo­cuses on the vis­i­tors’ aes­thetic en­joy­ment with a ro­bust aca­demic un­der­pin­ning. “We had to come up with in­no­va­tive ways to cer­tify that the nar­ra­tive was not lost while still ad­her­ing to all the con­di­tions to pair ob­jects to­gether based on their scale, light­ing and Rel­a­tive Hu­mid­ity (RH) re­quire­ments,” ex­plains Sam­pat. Di­vided into nine sec­tions, each of them were al­loted a dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tive and colour scheme to ex­press the story co­he­sively.

This page (L-R): The en­trance to the mu­seum, lead­ing to the ro­tunda, fea­tured a sculp­ture of the Nandi (800-900 AD); the ro­tunda marks the an­nounce­ment of the ex­hi­bi­tion. The Dis­cobo­lus il­lus­trates the col­lab­o­ra­tive na­ture of the project, ini­ti­at­ing a di­a­logue with the sur­round­ing ob­jects from In­dia Op­po­site page: The con­cept de­sign was in­spired by an­cient In­dian tem­ples that had mir­rors placed on the top to en­gage every devo­tee with the de­ity. The mir­rors po­si­tioned be­tween the columns in the ro­tunda en­gage the ob­jects in con­ver­sa­tion. The sculp­ture of the Dis­cobo­lus placed on a higher sur­face with a re­flec­tive base and with ap­pro­pri­ate light cre­ates a yantra-like pat­tern on the floor

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