The Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) is set to open to the public in February 2023. Developed to encourage South Asian arts and culture worldwide, MAP Bengaluru has a dual focus on digital as well as physical content. Founder Abhishek Poddar believes that there is a need for the initiative now, especially, since South Asian cultures represent the cultures of nearly a quarter of the world’s population and yet their stories have not been told. He hopes that the museum will open up a dialogue with the world in this time and age, when new narratives are being shaped.
MAP’s mission is to democratise art with a modest aim to change the general perception of museums in the country, by creating engaging spaces. It is custodian to a growing collection of over 60,000 artworks, predominantly from the Indian subcontinent and dating from the 10th century to the present, the collection includes paintings, sculptures, textiles, photographs, and artefacts.
The inaugural exhibitions and displays will provide a glimpse to the stories the collection tells. VISIBLE/INVISIBLE: Representation of Women in Art presents a range of collections across mediums from painting, sculpture, photography, and textiles, to jewellery. It attempts to re-address preconceived notions of femininity and gender as a social construct through art history, by providing a more inclusive understanding of it. Time & Time Again will be the first major retrospective, of the photography, of Indian artist Jyoti Bhatt, drawn from one of MAP’s photographic archives. Chirag-e-Al will be a solo exhibition of the visual artist LN Tallur, who was born in the state of Karnataka, where MAP is located, and who now lives and works between India and South Korea. Dialogues in Stone is an exhibition by internationally acclaimed sculptor and Royal Academician, Stephen Cox, and will display in the Sculpture Courtyard.
STIR speaks with Abhishek Poddar, founder, and Kamini Sawhney, director of Museum of Art & Photography, on the eve of the opening event of the museum.
Rahul Kumar: Please talk about the architecture plan of the museum building and how does it lend itself to the unique vision of MAP? How did you choose to work with Mathew & Ghosh?
Abhishek Poddar: Our aim for MAP was to be an unmissable part of the city for the visitor and the dweller alike. It had to be iconic with an ease to its physical recognition. Mathew & Ghosh have been successful in bringing about a design that is unique in its own way, with a small footprint and an enlarged area for the upper levels of the museum. While part of the museum exterior is opaque to keep the galleries, comprising artworks, safe from exposure to UV light, the public areas are all transparent, so one can look into and out of the museum, reflecting on the city and space.
The building creates column free spaces for the art galleries that are structured like a box unlike the traditional columns and cantilever slabs at each level. The idea was to resemble a water tank or container, which is also a metaphorical reference to the capacity of art to create a thrust on society and culture for reflection, change, and evolution. The stainless-steel panels used for the facade are embossed with a cross pattern which is traditionally associated with post-industrial metal panel water tanks. The simplicity of this thought for the MAP building, the materiality, the transparency, and opacity are part of the journey and the story behind the creation of our museum which we hope will be recognised as an architectural icon of the city of Bengaluru, dedicated to the culture and history of the city.
For me, Mathew & Ghosh was an unmistakable choice to design MAP’s building. Not only have they worked on some of the most remarkable architectural projects in the city, such as their transformation of the Old Central Jail into an urban public space, now known as Freedom Park, but they also share our values of making buildings, institutions, and spaces inclusive and accessible to the larger public. It was important for us to find someone who could internalise our vision and create a space that was representative of our core mission: to make art for all. We hope Mathew & Ghosh’s eye-catching design draws people into the space, which will help further our mission of bringing art into the heart of the community.
Rahul: There is a focus on engaging the young population. While it is critical for sustaining our creative heritage, it is also a fact that visiting museums is not a ‘thing to do’ for the millennials. What are some of the innovative measures you intend to take for this?
Kamini Sawhney: Drawing young audiences to the museum is at the very core of our mission. We are eager to change the general perception of museums in our country. In the West, there is a strong culture of visiting museums and galleries which unfortunately is not the case in India. We have artists who have pushed the boundaries in terms of their practice, whose work has been critically acclaimed across the world, and yet our museums remain widely under visited. At MAP, we are focused on getting everyone to experience and enjoy our culture and heritage. We understand that the world is changing and museums must reflect these changing times as well. MAP Labs is a concept that lies at the intersection of art and technology and explores how technology can provide solutions for art. With collaborators like Accenture Labs and Microsoft we have experimented with ways in which technology can enhance our experience of art.
Our project with Accenture Labs helped create a digital persona of celebrated contemporary artist MF Husain—combining artificial intelligence and a human-centred design. This interactive project based on deep learning and AI is at the heart of what we wish to do in the digital space—bringing in curious young people into our museum.
Our education team has been working on models of learning, through the arts, that encourage creative enquiry and critical thinking. We use a more hands-on approach in our workshops with many schools across the city and since the pandemic, the digital approach has expanded our influence beyond the city limits. We are committed to sensitising young children to the art and culture of this country, especially with the growing consensus on the positive impact the arts have on the intellectual and emotional development of children. The Discover MAP Packs are downloadable art kits available for children to enjoy from the comfort of their homes.
We hope to play a very active part in changing the notion that museums are static spaces, to the discovery that they can be an enriching out-of-the-classroom experience for everyone, from all backgrounds.
Rahul: Please tell me about the four narratives of the inaugural exhibition of the museum titled VISIBLE/INVISIBLE?
Kamini: VISIBLE/INVISIBLE raises questions around gender and preconceived notions and biases that are inherently built into our social structures. The exhibition explores the paradox that many women find themselves situated within, in terms of representation in art and the reality of lived experience. For centuries, while women have been the central subject of artistic representation, they have had very little agency over the nature of this representation, because the image makers have largely been male. In public spaces, while their images have often dominated billboards and screens, women have had to fight for the right to inhabit these spaces that their male counterparts have enjoyed, as a matter of course. The exhibition uses a series of questions to explore these several paradoxes and urges us to re-examine inherent biases and social structures that have encouraged the violence of invisibility.
The four key narratives that bind this exhibition are interconnected and provide us with a lens through which to view the artworks, in the context of this exhibition. The artworks, ranging from tenth century to contemporary, are grouped thematically rather than chronologically.
Goddess and Mortal showcases early examples of Indian goddesses, examining the connections between goddesses and women’s bodies, and how the visual arts have reinforced these linkages. The section also focuses on women’s bodies within nationalist discourse through symbolic images like Bharat Mata, and how the connections between divinity and womanhood have been leveraged in the political arena. Showcasing a wide range of artworks—from popular prints, textile labels, photographs, sculptures and contemporary painting—the section leaves you questioning whether these conflations are empowering or constricting,
Sexuality and Desire aims to unpack the forms of representation that examine female sexuality. It seeks to focus on the notion of the male gaze and addresses the patriarchal ideas of who is a ‘good’ woman and what makes a woman ‘desirable’. This narrative also looks at instances where female sexuality becomes a powerful force that creates space for empowerment, allowing women to assert control over the manner in which they are represented.
Power and Violence operates on concepts of domination and control, and how symbolic and structural violence in a patriarchal society have contributed to violence against women and marginalised genders. The artworks in this section focus on psychological and physical trauma, isolation, abandonment, and exclusion through the power dynamics of gendered violence.
Finally, Struggle and Resistance centres on and questions the nature of the space women occupy within the public to the domestic domain, collectively and as individuals. This section focuses on the multiple forms of labour and the journeys undertaken by women while addressing intersectionality of caste, class, and social and economic mobility.
Rahul: How does hosting an exhibition of Stephen Cox’s sculptures further the agenda and focus on South Asian arts that the museum vision states?
Kamini: Stephen Cox works with a team of stone carvers in Mahabalipuram to make the large stone sculptures that will feature in our exhibition, Dialogues in Stone. The material he works with—basalt—was also used to make historic temple sculptures in the region. His sculptures, Yoginis and Rishis depict contemporary versions of mythical figures. Minimalist in nature, the figures are stripped of any adornment that one would associate with them. Yet, the material and techniques used, reflect an engagement with sculptural practices of stone workers from thousands of years ago. His work thus brings attention to these traditional skills and practices in a reimagined context.
MAP is interested in working with artists from across the globe with practices rooted in Indian culture. Stephen Cox is one such artist, who has worked in Tamil Nadu for the past 35 years, merging his learnings about ancient Indian practices, reinterpretations of mythical characters and his interest in the creation of sculptural works.
Rahul: And finally, What is Bloomberg Connects?
Abhishek: We hope to be an innovative institution that explores how we can combine technology and art to create new experiences. We have discovered the reach of technology and how it has helped expand our voice way beyond the borders of our country. The opportunity to collaborate with Bloomberg Philanthropies in this venture has been a great experience and we are the first Asian museum to be featured on the Bloomberg Connects app.
Kamini: As a free digital guide, Bloomberg Connects features the highlights of our exhibitions that will be available on mobile devices. The ease of access and the capacity to tackle all vital information on our art exhibitions is a great asset for any museum of the modern world. It is a fresh medium to explore the artworks we have on display at the museum, as well as our vast virtual directory. The Bloomberg app helps not just accessing our physical museum but the patrons can even use the app to access the exhibitions virtually. The Bloomberg Connects app also has features that gives access to our vast directory of programmes and events, conducted through the years. Our blogs, video, and digital exhibitions will be available easily and ready to be consumed by anyone wishing to explore our space. The app is full of features that are user friendly and present not just our opening exhibitions but also diverse content and special events like the Director’s Cut, Museum Without Borders that are part of our regular features.
The multilingual guides on our exhibitions and our portfolio as a museum is available globally which resonates with our vision of spreading our identity beyond the borders. The app offers an opportunity to learn about our exhibitions and engage with the content we have to offer.
STIR is media partner with Museum of Art & Photography for its launch event in December 2022 at Bengaluru, India.