The Museum of Art and Photography (Map) in Bengaluru, South India’s first major private art museum, will open to the public in December after a pandemic-induced delay. According to India Today, the institution will attempt to fill a gap in a country where many museums are in a “state of dilapidation”.
The new museum, based in the country’s burgeoning “silicon valley”, is housed in a 44,000 sq. ft building designed by the Bengaluru-based architects Mathew & Ghosh. Its ambitious exhibition program includes Visible/Invisible which explores the representation of women in art history from the Indian subcontinent. K G Subramanyan’s painting Woman in the Blue Room, (1981) and Mrinalini Mukherjee’s hemp sculpture Naag (1986) are among the works included.
The US artist Chitra Ganesh will show a photographic series called Hidden Trails (2007). “My installation, photography, and sculptural work is inspired in particular by mythological narratives, present-day imperialism and queer politics, old Bollywood images, and songs, lyric poetry, and erased moments in South Asian history,” she says in a previous online statement.
Another show, Time and Time Again, is the first major retrospective of the photography of the Indian artist, Jyoti Bhatt. Curators will draw from the museum’s photographic archives, containing 1,000 prints by Bhatt and several thousand negatives. Another exhibition will be dedicated to the artist L N Tallur, born in the state of Karnataka, of which Bengaluru is the largest city.
The philanthropist and businessman Abhishek Poddar has donated the bulk of his collection to form most of the museum’s 60,000 works of art and artifacts that tell the story of Indian culture stretching from the
12th century to today. It contains sections on photography, folk art, textiles, and design as well as contemporary and 20th-century art, including works by major South Asian Modernists such as Tyeb Mehta.
Poddar says in a statement: “I believe we need Map Museum of Art & Photography now because South Asian cultures represent the cultures of nearly a quarter of the world’s population and yet their stories have not been told.”
At a recent press briefing, Poddar says that the new institution will “push the needle” for museums in India where the budget for culture was cut last year by 15% to INR 26.8bn (£280m). Poddar’s LinkedIn page describes him as the “director of Sua Explosives & Accessories and the managing director of Matheson Bosanquet, an 80-year-old company with activities in tea production, trading, and export”.
The land for the museum was purchased through a donation by the Poddar Family; the building is funded partly by a donation from the Poddar family and a group of philanthropists including Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and Sunil Munjal along with companies such as Citi and Tata.
“Map is a not-for-profit institution that currently receives no government funding and is a unit and major project of the Art & Photography Foundation. The programming is funded through private patrons and corporate sponsorship. Any revenue collected through retail, membership, or ticketing for entrance fees, special exhibitions, and certain events will be reinvested back to underwriting the museum’s activities,” a spokesperson says.
So is this a breakthrough moment for Indian museums? Indian-born Natasha Ginwala, an associate curator-at-large at the Gropius Bau in Berlin, says: “What is exceptionally interesting about Map is the complex web of visual cultures that meet in this collection ranging from early photography to ‘calendar art’, cinema posters, and indigenous traditions from metalwork to painting. These facets are accompanied by an expansive inclusion of figures from Modernism who emerged across the country, the likes of Jyoti Bhatt to Arpita Singh. What remains to be seen is how adventurous the curatorial and discursive framework will be across the exhibitions and programs produced.”
In recent years, private museums and foundations are playing a more active role in India’s cultural landscape which is a vital and welcome sign, she adds. “[This development] needs to be understood in light of the social fractures, limited freedoms, and ethnonationalism in today’s politics. These entities have a huge responsibility to ensure access and an atmosphere of openness while safeguarding the pluralism of historical and contemporary cultural experience.”
Last year, Map museum curators used artificial intelligence software to create a “conversational digital persona” of the late Bombay Progressive painter, M F Husain. Throughout the pandemic, Map developed a number of digital initiatives including Museums Without Borders (each episode in the YouTube series juxtaposes work from Map with an object from a partner museum). “We hope Map will be a catalyst that will help democratize art. We hope to collaborate with other museums across the country to create exciting spaces that people enjoy visiting,” says Map’s director Kamini Sawhney.