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Reclaiming Culture and History

Updated: Feb 12, 2020

A unique collaboration between museums showcases India’s connection with the rest of the world.

Words by Rini Mukkath

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, (CSMVS) is hosting India and the World: A History in Nine Stories, one of the country's most ambitious exhibitions . The exhibition is presented as a collaboration between the CSMVS as the host museum, the British Museum in London and the National Museum, New Delhi, with the support of the Ministry of Culture. Supported by the Tata Trusts and the Getty Foundation, this project is planned to coincide with the celebrations of 70 years of Indian Independence.

The exhibition will showcase some of the most important objects and works of art from the

Indian subcontinent, in dialogue with iconic pieces from the British Museum collection. It

highlights the historically strong connections India has shared with the rest of the world, promoting an exchange of ideas and influences that have helped create a global culture.

The exhibition will share with viewers, nine stories drawn from important eras in India’s


Excerpts from an interview with Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Director General, CSMVS, who discusses how the exhibit came together.

How did the collaboration between the two museums and countries come


Our relation with the British Museum goes back to the 1920s. The relationship between

institutes consolidated during the tenure of Mr. Neil MacGregor, the former director of

the British Museum, and continues further under the leadership of Dr. Hartwig Fischer,

the present director. To us, collaboration means ‘friendship’— a new relationship

between institutes, organisations or individuals based on mutual trust and respect.

Talk about the efforts that have gone into putting this exhibit together and also shaping it into Nine stories. How was this demarcation arrived upon?

Neil MacGregor and I jointly conceptualised ‘India and the World: A History in Nine Stories’ in March 2014 after the Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia, the second major exhibition on which the CSMVS collaborated with the British Museum.

This is a collaborative exhibition involving the British Museum and 28 institutes within

the country.

The exhibition is an experiment, the first of its kind outside of the United States, United

Kingdom and European borders, and attempts to provide a model for museums to share

their collections with people across the world. The research and selection of objects for

this exhibition and the involvement of 28 institutes were few of the major challenges

that the management of CSMVS had to face.

The exhibition covers iconic moments of India’s history from the prehistoric past to the

present against the backdrop of comparable happenings in other parts of the world at

the same time. This is a chronology-based thematic exhibition, which highlights India’s

glorious past through iconic art objects from Indian collections with an aim to explore

connections and comparisons between India and the rest of the world.

How important are exhibits like these in reclaiming cultural identities and introducing people to their own history?

All selected exhibits represent different chronological moments in Indian as well global

history. They narrate social, political, economic, and cultural positions of different

chronological layers where we get an opportunity to demonstrate how similarities can

lead to an appreciation of the long and shared histories India has had with the rest of the

world and differences that show respect for parallel systems of knowledge. It also gives

an opportunity to people from diverse countries and cultures to become partners of the

world narrative, and motivates them to reclaim and reposition their own unique

regional, national, and global identities in the changing cultural landscape of the world.

What are some of the challenges that you faced while putting together this exhibit?

The challenges were multiple, from conceptualisation to realisation, in different areas such as research, selection of objects, loan procedures, funding, transportation, insurance, design, interpretation, installation, safety and security, etc.

Are there any personal favorites in the exhibit for you?

The selection of artefacts from the Indian collections went along with the prescribed

narrative. A brief introduction and an outline on the theme were developed before the

involvement of co-curators on this project. Hence there was no scope for favouritism in

selecting any particular artefact. The exhibition presents pairs or groups of objects set in

conversation with each other. The catalyst for each conversation is a specific moment in

history, repositioning the Indian objects in the global context and exploring connections

between India and the rest of the world.

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