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Young curators envision new children’s museum

In an unique endeavour, children plan the inaugural exhibition of a new wing at CSMVS in Mumbai

Siddhant Shah, who works with accessibility in the arts, mentoring the young curators at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. Photo: Abhijit Bhatelkar/Mint
Siddhant Shah, who works with accessibility in the arts, mentoring the young curators at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. Photo: Abhijit Bhatelkar/Mint

This painting was made by the students of artist Devi Prasad. The musicians are praying for the rains to put an end to the drought," says Anushree Pathrikar, indicating an image of an untitled painting, identified as Musicians And Dancers Performing. She points to the object text, handwritten by her on a piece of pop-pink paper, which explains the scene, possibly set in rural India.

Pathrikar is a nine-year-old curator, one of the youngest in a team of 25 children who are currently putting together the inaugural exhibition at a new children’s museum. Set to open later this year in Mumbai, it is an initiative by the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS). Over the course of six weekends since August, these young minds have been attending workshops on curating and exhibition design.

Sabyasachi Mukherjee, the director general of CSMVS, says, “The idea was to create a new space within the existing museum where our children can participate in creative activities, become curators and guide others. We thought ‘For the Children, Of the Children’ would be a good starting point."

This young team, composed of students aged 8-14, has been divided into two groups—one devoted to curating and another which has been busy creating an animation film. Bilwa Kulkarni, the education officer at CSMVS, says the museum reached out to around 34 schools across Mumbai earlier this year and held essay writing and art competitions, on the theme of “My Little Museum: The Museum Of My Dreams". The curatorial team was chosen from the essay contest, while the film team was drawn from the art contest.

The objects in the children’s museum have been chosen from CSMVS’ permanent collection, with a few loans as well. “We must remember that a children’s museum is not a toy museum or playthings for children. These are actual objects of historic interest and artistic value," says Kulkarni. These objects will be housed in a new wing designed by architect Rahul Mehrotra on the museum premises and supported by the Bank of America.

The otherwise sombre Curators’ Gallery at the CSMVS wears a different look now. Colourful mats and unbridled somersaults are offset by the serious consideration of the artworks, creating a mix of a curatorial lab and a playpen. Mentors have been invited from the museum’s own curatorial team, as well as guests, such as artist Brinda Miller and writer Lubaina Bandukwala. “These students are inquisitive and tend to question everything around them. We had categorized the objects under basic groups, but these budding curators devised their own theme—on values," explains Kulkarni.

Nine-year-old Anwita Sengupta says in the course of this curatorial process, she has learned that compromise is an essential component of teamwork. “We had to get votes for our ideas. I learned that it cannot be my idea alone," she says. From these brainstorming sessions, the future curators have grouped objects under themes such as friendship, peace and environmental consciousness. Meanwhile, the animation team has been making a film explaining the inaugural exhibition and the museum at Toon Club, an animation study centre in Mumbai. The museum doesn’t want to divulge the full curatorial plan as yet, for it hopes to keep it as a surprise closer to the opening. You can follow the progress of the young curators on CSMVS’ Instagram account, @csmvsmumbai.

Sengupta says her curatorial role has been fairly manageable. Having visited a couple of museums previously, she is largely familiar with the makings of the object text. “It’s not that museums and texts feel like they are made for adults," says Sengupta, “It’s just that they feel boring. They use complicated words. We are trying to keep it simple."

The Children’s Museum is scheduled to open later this year at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya in Fort, Mumbai.

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