Karnataka’s Kodava community, believed to number less than 200,000, will soon have a museum showcasing its heritage. The Bengaluru-based India Foundation for the Arts, supported by Recaero India, a spare parts specialist servicing the aerospace industry, is putting together Sandooka—The Living Museum of Kodava Culture, an interactive virtual museum expected to be formally launched in 2023.
The project is being led by art historian and curator Lina Vincent, author-researcher Nitin Kushalappa M.P., and Upasana and Saurav Roy, founders of SWITCH! Studio, a motion design studio and lab based out of Mumbai and Goa. The team, which hopes to record the history, arts, customs and cultural practices of this community from Coorg, has put out an open call for stories, images, songs, objects and memories. These will be compiled as both community and personal stories.
“Such museums are not only important to showcase these unique cultures for India’s diverse peoples but serve another equally important purpose. The younger generation of Kodavas, who have fanned across the country and the world in search of new professions, are in danger of losing their connections with the rich heritage to which they belong,” says Rathi Vinay Jha, chair, advisory group, Sandooka Museum.
Vincent says the cultural practices—often orally transmitted—of relatively small communities such as the Kodavas are in danger of being lost. Digital archiving, documentation and virtual interfaces can make these more accessible. “We are reconsidering the convention that a museum is a static repository of history. The vision is to bring it alive through personal stories that highlight peoples’ relationships to identity, place, heritage and collective culture,” says Vincent. “This museum is conceived as a living, evolving space created by and with the community.”
The project is a culmination of extensive research, innovative design and virtual outreach. Information has been gathered in English as well in Kodava through remote and on-site interviews. The role of researchers from the Kodava community has been crucial in understanding the context, thereby leading to an accurate representation. The museum is planned as an evolving experimental space . “In terms of design, the team is building a non-linear narrative between interconnected objects, artefacts and oral histories,” says Vincent.
The idea is to create a collaborative platform where the community can tell its own stories, with the team playing merely the role of facilitators. To achieve this, multiple outreach channels have been created on social media, inviting the community to share tangible and intangible resources such as photographs, videos, jewellery, costumes, recipes and utensils. “It is to be noted that no physical object will be taken. Rather, the virtual museum will be curated on the basis of documentation of material that we receive as contributions/donations, along with the stories that are researched by our team,” says Vincent. “All copyright will remain with the contributor, and will be credited with permission.”