One of Mumbai’s important gallery+museum, the Piramal Museum of Art, closed doors during lockdown, no one knows if it will ever open. Over the last 4 years it had become a very happy and welcoming space where I could confidently walk around with my students knowing they’ll be loved and respected. Most museums and galleries don’t respond positively to young adults and are critical of them. Here my students laughed and could be themselves. Thankfully, the art on display was curated with them in mind, it wasn’t always targeted to the already educated elite visitor.
Before the opening of one of their exhibitions, taking out time from their extreme crazy schedule, Ashvin Rajagopalan and Vaishnavi animatedly spoke to the students about their vision while curating this fantastic exhibition – ‘Making Art’. Had visited with my product and strategic design management students from ISDI Parsons in 2019 and they had thoroughly loved every bit of their time spent here.
I vividly remember how Ashvin and Vaishnavi had patiently explained to them how they envision and curate exhibitions and then started quizzing them about their future in design. This space offered engaging and interactive conversations to young adults in this chaotic and sometimes cruel megapolis.
During this exhibition, the museum had tied up with the stationary giant, Camlin, and provided the best art supplies to each visitor and they could use them for as long as they wanted to at the space, for free – who does that for these brilliant young people Many more cultural and heritage organisations should step out of their straight jacketed structures and give so much freedom and respect to welcome a diverse audience.
I had taken them as part of the course, ‘Introduction to Design Studies’ to gain inspiration from their visit. The objective was to have them engage with original works of art that are not always accessible as they are in showcases with difficult-to-understand labels, which could put their understanding from the course in a certain context and perspective. The course content included serious theories like structuralism, deconstruction, psychoanalytical studies, gender studies, Lacan’s Gaze along with knowledge of sustainable systems, ecology conscious behaviour and tenets of a diverse, inclusive and accessible society.
Their assignments were mind blowing amalgamation of their learning in context of the artworks and their experience at the exhibition. Everything from love, death, destruction, history, pride, safety for women, freedom of expression and choice, meanings of colours and textures were dealt with in multiple creative ways. The final outcome had to keep in mind several ways of bringing in those sections of the population which otherwise would refrain from visiting such high art spaces, and these 75 students found novel ways to make everyone to visit the museum 🙂 one group inspired from Navjot Altaf’s red horned sculpture (shown above) compared it with Satan and how we misjudge good and evil and create taboos! Another group made a wooden door and made me walk through it to make me realise that as we do not know about death then why do we give so much value to it – they were inspired by the pottery and other artefacts!!!
I have seen ‘Behind the Canvas’ exhibition twice – once for myself and another with the students – it will stay with me forever. I found my favourite Pichhwai there, along with so many other works of art.
For this exhibition, I had taken my Visual Communication Design students from Whistling Woods International as part of their course ‘Cultural Studies’. They were completely enthralled and didn’t want to leave. I hadn’t planned for this visit but they had already heard from their friends at ISDI that I had taken them to this museum so they wanted to experience it themselves!!! I couldn’t resist such an offer! This time I could request the Piramal Museum in advance to arrange our visit unlike the previous visit where they had arranged for me to reach within an hour – and we had been late!
This group produced some hilarious memes based on the artworks displayed at the exhibition, posting a few here 🙂 but going by these memes, young people have a lot to teach us and for us a lot to learn – some made very strong statements on decadent traditions and hypocritical attitudes.
All my students who have visited this space have told me to hold all my classes here as then full attendance would be guaranteed ♥️♥️♥️ They had asked me if this city could create more such happy and inclusive spaces for them then they wouldn’t have to visit malls! I haven’t had the courage to tell them the museum is closed, it’ll break their hearts. One day soon, we’ll be back there together.
All photos taken by the author or a student.