From virtual tours and digital resources to podcasts and audio tours, museums have taken up the Covid-19 challenge and are bringing curators, historians and audiences closer even as we are all tethered home. The world over, institutes have risen up to the challenge and revamped their websites, making them far more interactive than they have ever been.
So, staring you in the face are Dorothea Lange’s portraits of people from across America. Exhibited as part of Virtual Views initiative by New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures presents her work across many contexts and lets us consider the importance her legacy today. And it is here that you draw the parallel between her iconic Migrant Mother and pictures of thousands of migrants forced to walk home in India in these times, despair in their stride and belongings, whatever little, on their backs. One photograph had a little girl carrying her school bag.
Lange’s exhibition was preceded by a celebration of Parisian art dealer and critic Felix Feneon who championed the careers of avant-garde artists such as Paul Signac and Henri Matisse, among others. It has now moved on to let people discover outdoor spaces such as the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, and would be followed by Vincent van Gogh’s works. Q&A sessions are a regular feature between curators and artists here.
The British Museum too has made nearly 4.5 million objects available, with 1.9 million images. It includes 2,80,000 photographs and 85,000 records published for the very first time, many of them recent acquisitions by the museum, including 73 portraits by Damian Hirst, a previously lost watercolour by Rossetti, and a stunning 3,000-year-old Bronze age pendant. Of special interest to visitors from the region would be the Museum’s huge collection of Pahari paintings.
Aficionados can check out a museum specifically dedicated to Anglo-Sikh history at www.anglosikhmuseum.com. Here, 3D technology brings to life objects related to Anglo-Sikh history, for instance, weaponry, coins, flags and Maharani Jindan’s jewellery.
Closer home, the National Gallery of Modern Art is paying a virtual tribute to Raja Ravi Varma in his 172nd anniversary year. Besides, works of Jamini Roy and Amrita Sher-Gil have gone online too.
Netizens are responding more than favourably. Chandigarh-based Panjab Digital Library saw online activity dramatically increase around March 26; overwhelmed by the response, their website crashed twice. Requests for access to offline data increased from one a day to over 50 a day. In the past few days, some titles have been downloaded over 1000 times, says Davinder Pal Singh, executive director, PDL.
Artists are also showcasing their works online, discussing the times and dealing with it all in their own way. Last month, Serendipity Arts Festival launched a digital initiative that brought a range of multi-disciplinary experiences from across a cross-section of the arts. Among other events, percussionist Ranjit Barot engaged in a dialogue with Hariharan on Instagram Live and Anuradha Kapur and Maya Krishna Rao discussed theatre on Zoom.
Kochi-Muziris Biennale too has gone online big time and is sharing artists’ reflection on the pandemic and life in quarantine. Like Kajal Deth uses birds as a metaphor for freedom. For her, ‘these times come almost like a reminder from nature that the Earth belongs to all forms of life’. Unnikrishna M Damodaran’s work is a reflection of how everyday conversations have transformed dramatically within this short period of time. As a typography and lettering enthusiast, he has been exploring ways to visually express the new pandemic vocabulary in Malayalam.
Artists will always find ways to express themselves, new languages and new inspirations, no matter if it is a pandemic plaguing the world.
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