January 28, 2010


This weekend I took the opportunity to enjoy the local culture that Kolkata offers. First I went to the Indian Museum, an absolutely ancient and fascinating place, a museum of a museum, where exhibits appear not to have been touched for years. The writing archaic, the information obsolete, and the tone often offensive, it was the absurd combination of a science, art, natural history, anthropological, geological, archaeological and historical museum all in one package. They apparently tried to cram all of essential human knowledge into one building. Though I had to pay 150 Rs ($3) to enter whereas locals pay only 10 Rs, it was worth it as its own spectacle of what Indians have decided necessary to preserve for the promotion of knowledge and culture. Who would think to have an entire hall full of all the different types of rocks from every state in India? Or a hall dedicated to the evolution of man using life-siezed dioramas of Neanderthals and Cro-magnon man? Or post the geologic history of Earth on hilariously simple drawings of volcanoes, magma and the layers of Earth's core? I was quite impressed with the quantity of bronze scuptures that they housed in the collection, all depicting one of the many gods or goddesses like Ganesha, Shiva, or Buddha. The coin hall was a rare treat, showing tiny pieces of art which have been used as currency over the past 3000 years. What was perhaps most intriguing was the anthropology section which housed more life-sized dioramas of many tribes from around India along with very judgemental descriptions of the tribespeople. The blurbs treated them as uncivilized and not yet having reached the level of modernity that is socially acceptable. "They hunt game and gather berries, refusing to accept the more efficient agricultural practices of the modern world." I was struck by the busts they had cast in bronze of an example of each tribe, which were quite detailed, showing the difference in facial structure between the various strains of races. I sketched one Chenchu head, which attracted a rudely interested audience that insisted on looing over my shoulder, shamelessly, giving me no privacy, not to mention the people who would blatantly stare at me as a foreigner, as if I were one of the exhibits. I stared back passive-aggressively, trying to contain my bitterness at their indiscretion. Being an obvious foreigner has become the most irritating for me as of late, as people take photos of me at my face (3 already) and others yell "kanichiwa" assuming I am Japanese. I still have to figure out a dignified response. Smiling back is too fake, due to my sincere disdain at my constant identity as a spectacle. Anyway, the last exhibit I would have liked to see more of was the painting. Though the pieces were terribly kept behind glass and in a dilapidated state of disintegration, not to mention the horrible lighting where glares prevented the viewer from properly seeing the pieces at all, I still was quite impressed by the variety of watercolors and drawings their collection had. I really liked the work of Nandalal Bose, Gabinadrath Tagore, and Rabindranath Tagore. The colorful yet simple paper works had an intimacy and simplicity, a style and culture that inspires me to seek out more examples of Bengali art. Luckily, there are many more museums to admire.

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