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Delhi celebrates International Museum Day with aplomb

LifestyleDelhi celebrates International Museum Day with aplomb

There is no greater repository of cultural heritage than a museum. These public spaces have the power to educate and enthral people of all ages and from all walks of life. To celebrate the important job they do, the International Council of Museums has organised International Museum Day every year since 1977. This year, the occasion was celebrated on May 18 on the theme ‘Museums, Sustainability, and Wellbeing’, which was a recognition of the role played by museums in fostering positive change through their support of climate action and inclusivity as well as mental health concerns.
India’s commitment to making museums a part of the larger social narrative was most visible this year in New Delhi, its capital city, with some important institutions opening their doors while others announced their arrival. The first of these is a museum with an interesting history: the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) Children’s Museum in Siri Fort, which reopened after three long years.
When writer Ajeet Cour came across illegal construction being carried out in the vicinity of the protected monument of Siri Fort 25 years ago, she alerted her friend and former Prime Minister V.P. Singh about it. He spearheaded a long court case, which was eventually decided in his favour when the court ordered the demolition of the illegal building. Instead of doing that, however, the building was handed over to the ASI as its rightful owners, who eventually decided to open a heritage museum for children there, which opened its doors in 2007. “Precious pottery dating back to the 13th century that we had found when the illegal construction was taking place was displayed in glass cases. My daughter, Arpana Caur, got two huge sculptures, ‘Chola Nataraj’ and ‘Nandi Bull,” made by her sculptor friends in Garhi, where she had a studio as an artist. And then the great archaeologist K.K. Mohammad commissioned the best sculptors to recreate the most eminent and most beautiful sculptures of India in fibreglass to be placed in the museum,” the writer recounts.
However, with the onset of COVID lockdowns, the building remained closed for three years. That is, until Praveen Singh was posted to Delhi with the ASI. Under his guidance, the museum finally reopened on International Museum Day with Ajeet Cour as Chief Guest. Children from across Delhi attended the event. They were given a tour of the premises and participated in an art contest where they could paint any monument of their choice to win prizes.
Another brand-new museum that opened its doors in Delhi is the Partition Museum and Cultural Hub housed in the Dara Shukoh Library Building inside the Ambedkar University campus. The brainchild of Kishwar Desai, who is Chair Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust, it was inaugurated by the Minister of Art, Culture, and Languages for the Government of N.C.T of Delhi, Atishi Marlena. “Shahjahanabad”, a drama choreographed to music and poetry by Rene Singh, Syeda Hameed, Zakia Zaheer, Lokesh Jain and troupe rounded off the memorable event.
The Partition Museum and Cultural Hub houses archival material including newspaper clippings, photographs and documentation, donated objects that people carried across the border with them, poignant oral histories as well as contemporary art that captures the essence of intangible losses. The Dara Shukoh Auditorium, located on the premises, will also be used for literary festivals, musical evenings, and other events in the future.
“After the award-winning Partition Museum in Amritsar, we are sure that this museum which covers the impact of the Partition in Delhi will also be vastly appreciated – not only by the 80 percent residents of Delhi who have some connection to the Partition but also by those millions who are interested in the preservation of history and heritage,” Lady Kishwar Desai said on the occasion of the inauguration. To this, Ashwini Pai Bahadur, the Director of the museum added, “We are delighted that the Partition Museum and Cultural Hub Dara Shukoh Library Building was inaugurated on International Museums Day. It was crucial to appreciate the full transformative potential of the museum.”
The third big launch of the day was the unveiling of what will become India’s largest art and culture centre when it opens in 2026. This was the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art’s (KNMA) new building by award-winning Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye, in collaboration with S. Ghosh & Associates. Its model – intricate in detail and impressive in expanse – is currently on display at KNMA Saket, alongside works from the museum’s collection of modern masters like Tyeb Mehta, Zarina and Nasreen Mohamedi, as well as Touch AIR, a film by contemporary filmmaker Amit Dutta.
Established by art patron and collector Kiran Nadar in 2010, this private museum has consistently worked to foster a museum-going culture in Delhi through its focussed programming and well-curated exhibits. Apart from its Delhi and Noida branches, the new location is spread over 100,000 square metres on the National Highway (NH8) in Delhi, near the Indira Gandhi International Airport. Once it opens, KNMA will host changing exhibitions, permanent displays, and performances at par with the best international cultural destinations aimed at spreading knowledge of visual arts, music, dance, and theatre.
On the occasion, Kiran Nadar, founder-chairperson of KNMA, said, “The newly built space of KNMA has been conceived as a world-class cultural centre, a state-of-the-art building and a cultural powerhouse open to all. It will be a place for cultural discovery, a place for confluence and diverse conversations, with a high engagement across a broad range of audiences. At the heart of KNMA is the notion of giving back to society, preserving treasures of the cultural past and nurturing a young generation of creative practitioners and thinkers, while bridging the gap between art and the public.”
Sir Adjaye summarised its appeal, “KNMA’s location in Delhi–one of the oldest cities in the world with a lineage of habitation that stretches to the 6th century BCE–gives new context to its position as a dynamic, living cultural force. As such, its specific location within the city directly influences the new building’s form, rhythm and landscape.”
As Delhi gets a cultural facelift, there is clearly lots to look forward to.
Noor Anand Chawla pens lifestyle articles for various publications and her blog

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