A journey to the past | Rendezvous with historian Shubhashree Purkayastha

“A journey to the past – Rendezvous with historian Shubhashree Purkayastha .”

An exhibition titled “Mysterious Mothers of the Museum” was organised at the Assam State Museum, Guwahati from August 1 to August 10, 2017. The exhibition brought out four objects from the Sculpture Collection of the Assam State Museum and attempt to re-contextualise them, through providing an alternative identification.

The exhibition was curated by Shubhashree Purkayastha, a Delhi-based art historian who, in collaboration with the India Foundation for Arts, Bangalore, brought out the unique art exhibition ‘Mysterious Mothers of the Museum’ to one of the biggest multipurpose museums of India- the Assam State Museum.

A rendezvous with the historian gave us the following insights about her as well as history and art.

Hailing from the oil town of Duliajan, Assam, she has been in Delhi for the last 10 years. She studied History at Lady Shri Ram College, and then did her masters in Art History from National Museum Insititute, Delhi. She has also recently submitted her M.Phil thesis in Visual Studies at JNU.

She was always interested in History, and the sphere of the visual had also attracted her from an early age. When she was in LSR, she attended a workshop on the history of Indian Art and Architecture, and that is when she learnt about this particular course of Art History, deciding to pursue it at the Masters level.

When asked about the decreasing footfall at museums, she says Museums have never been a favourite place among the general masses in India. They are though of as dead boring places with nothing to contribute to, in the present. I think the reason behind such a mentality is the general structure of how museums have always functioned in this country, in a very bureaucratic manner, like some monotonous government office, with nothing to engage the audience or engage their curiosity. Of course people would prefer malls over museums! This is not to say that progress has not been made. Many museums across the country are doing an exceptional job in creating policies and programs to increase visitor footfall.”

About “Mysterious Mothers of the Museum”:

This is the result of a fellowship grant given to Shubhashree by the India Foundation For The Arts, Bangalore, in collaboration with the Assam Museum. The exhibition is a four-object show, which will feed into a larger show of 30 objects at the end of this fellowship period. Her grant involves researching on the pre-Ahom collection of sculptures in the museum, and developing public engagement programs around them. This exhibition is the first of a series of 3 more programs.
The current exhibition focused on the political and religious contacts that ancient Assam had with northern India from around the 6th century, and how this cross-cultural influence is evident in the visual data of that period. The exhibition also contextualizes and provides new identifications of the displayed objects, re-emphasising on this cross-cultural influence. “The modern period in world Art begins sometime in the late 19th century, and is marked by various movements and individual artists coming up with their signature styles, showing works in galleries, taking commissions, and most often addressing social as well as psychological issues” she says when asked bout the demarcation between ancient and modern art.
“Whereas the history of art of the Ancient world was characterised by hard-set rules, canons and guilds of artisans producing work communally. It is not very often that history gives us names of individual artists from the Ancient period, perhaps just the name of the head-artisan or supervisor. It was also art produced mainly to serve religious needs, and had a definite function other than just aesthetic pleasure” she adds.

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