India’s MAP Museum of Art & Photography tackles biases and the male gaze

Published by Oscar Holland, CNN

India’s very long-awaited MAP Museum of Art and Photography, a key new cultural institution in the southern metropolis of Bengaluru, welcomed its 1st readers this month, featuring a glimpse at a 60,000-item selection that may well help reframe the subcontinent’s artwork history.

Set throughout a new 5-story constructing, the private museum focuses — as its title indicates — on pre-modern-day, modern day and modern day art, as perfectly as photography. But its loaded archive of textiles, crafts and print promotion speaks to a wider mission: eroding the distinction between “good” artwork and what the museum describes as “everyday creative imagination.”

Bollywood memorabilia and conventional woven fabrics share the highlight with historical bronzes and carved deities. MAP’s founder, the businessman and philanthropist Abhishek Poddar, said the assortment puts “almost everything on 1 amount actively playing industry.”

“The full differentiation among ‘high’ artwork and ‘low’ artwork, attractive arts and great arts, is not an Indian idea,” explained Poddar, who is amid the country’s most notable artwork collectors, in a movie call. “It really is a incredibly Western construct. That’s how we have grown up searching at it in museums, but not that is not how it is in life.”

Bhupen Khakhar's 1965 work "Devi," which deconstructs the conventional image of a goddess, features in a MAP exhibition charting the representation of women in Indian art.

Bhupen Khakhar’s 1965 function “Devi,” which deconstructs the regular graphic of a goddess, features in a MAP exhibition charting the representation of gals in Indian art. Credit: Museum of Art & Pictures, Bangalore

Producing the selection available — and sidestepping perceptions that artwork galleries are elitist institutions — is aspect of Poddar’s target of fostering what he phone calls a “museum-likely lifestyle” in India. A lot of MAP is cost-free to the general public, with charges for ticketed exhibitions waived just one afternoon for each week. The museum explained it welcomed over 1,000 people today on each and every day of its opening weekend.

MAP is also explicitly focusing on young people today in a country the place more than a quarter of the inhabitants is aged 14 or underneath. Its open-entry electronic offerings (which turned a focal point right after Covid-associated delays pushed back again the museum’s opening by in excess of two yrs), incorporate video clip workshops, webinars and an on the internet encyclopedia of South Asian artwork with over 2,000 entries overseen by qualified students.

“India has some of the most awesome art, the two in phrases of what was made in the past and what is actually being designed now,” mentioned Poddar, who founded MAP with 7,000 performs from his private assortment and has given that donated “a couple of thousand” additional. “Why is it that we never go to Indian museums, but each and every time we travel abroad, just one of the very first issues we do is go to a museum over there?”

Countering biases

MAP’s opening plan also displays its problem with forgotten narratives. Just take its leading-billed exhibition, “Noticeable/Invisible,” which explores the illustration of ladies all through Indian artwork history.

Above the centuries, females have been depicted as goddesses and mothers, as nurturers and commodities. Still, barring scarce exceptions like painter Amrita Sher Gil, they had been right until recently viewed completely as a result of the eyes of guys, described the show’s curator and MAP director, Kamini Sawhney.

A textile label from the trading company Shaw Wallace, depicting a woman as "Goddess India," is among the examples of everyday design in the show.

A textile label from the buying and selling company Shaw Wallace, depicting a woman as “Goddess India,” is amongst the examples of everyday design in the clearly show. Credit history: Museum of Art & Images, Bangalore

An untitled work by the artist JP Singhal from the late 20th century.

An untitled do the job by the artist JP Singhal from the late 20th century. Credit history: Museum of Art & Images, Bangalore

“India girls are deified as goddesses and, at the other end of the spectrum, they are seemed at as objects of desire,” she explained in a video contact shortly after the show’s opening. “So the place is the area in among for girls to just be typical mortals with the ambitions, dreams and frailties that all of us have?”

“Noticeable/Invisible” partly aims to current, then deconstruct, this male gaze. The 130 is effective on display screen assortment from what Sawhney termed the “major-breasted, little-waisted, extensive-hipped goddesses” depicted in 10th century statues to a poster for the 1957 Bollywood epic “Mother India,” which imagines its heroine as a plough-wielding nationalist image of write-up-colonial India.

As the 20th century progressed, women of all ages commenced “using keep of the narrative,” Sawhney included. As this sort of, afterwards will work contain the woman artists whose rise reflected women’s modifying status and the broader feminist artwork movement. A brooding 1991 painting by Nalini Malani imagines legendary ladies as figures of the two nurture and violence Nilima Sheikh’s “Mom and Baby 2” depicts a maternal bond that millennia of male artists could only guess at.

The exhibition also attributes six original will work commissioned to enable fill gaps in the canon, like a quilt by non-binary artist Renuka Rajiv and a online video get the job done by LGBTQ collective Payana that was made in collaboration with transgender persons aged 50 and earlier mentioned.

A still from the 1950 movie "Dahej," which MAP's exhibition catalog describes as a "powerful critique of the practice of dowry in India."

A nonetheless from the 1950 movie “Dahej,” which MAP’s exhibition catalog describes as a “strong critique of the follow of dowry in India.” Credit score: Museum of Artwork & Images, Bangalore

At a time when museums are envisioned to be more than just vessels for artwork, Sawhney’s curatorial technique seeks to counter biases. Long term exhibitions, she stated, will draw on the craft traditions of marginalized communities and indigenous artwork that has not, historically, been “noticed as deserving of getting into a museum.”

A museum is not “just objects on partitions,” Sawhney said, introducing: “Whose narrative are we telling all the time? Or whose perspectives are we presenting? I imagine it is a decline for our audiences if they are not capable to hear many voices. So, we see MAP as a house not just for dominant voices, but for everyone’s voice in the local community.”

Philanthropy procedures

With a 44,000-square-foot constructing built by neighborhood architecture agency Mathew & Ghosh, MAP characteristics four galleries, an auditorium, a conservation centre and a investigate library. It also enjoys a central location in what is essentially the museum district of Bengaluru, a city typically dubbed “India’s Silicon Valley.”

Early proposals confronted opposition from some regional artists, who expressed problem about — among the other matters — the prominence of business enterprise figures on MAP’s board. But the museum, like considerably of India’s artwork sector, depends on private funding. The Indian Ministry of Culture’s entire yearly budget for the coming 12 months is, at 30.1 billion rupees ($362 million), only 46% far more than the running funds of the USA’s major art museum, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The museum opened with four exhibitions largely drawn from its 60,000-item collection.

The museum opened with 4 exhibitions mostly drawn from its 60,000-merchandise selection. Credit score: Krishna Tangirala/Museum of Artwork & Pictures, Bangalore

Beyond Poddar’s particular contributions, and in lieu of an acquisition spending budget, the relaxation of MAP’s assortment contains gifts from philanthropists and other donors. The founder estimates that ticket sales will deal with “barely 10%” of the museum’s expenditures, with sponsorship and donations generating up substantially of the shortfall.

But even though Poddar acknowledges that arts and culture rarely sign up on what he phone calls India’s “hierarchy of demands,” he sees investment decision in the sector as vital for preserving cultural heritage. He compared the loss of India’s artistic traditions to “an animal going extinct.”

“I consider it is really time we begun searching at this a great deal a lot more severely, as a state and as a people today,” he reported. “This is not just one person’s, one group’s or community’s area — it’s for all of us.”

Seen/Invisible: Representation of Females in Art by the MAP Selection” is showing at the MAP Museum of Art and Photography in Bengaluru until finally Dec. 1, 2025.