Exhibition Ways of Constructing
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