Two pandemics and a museum

A large scaffolding stands on the centre of the Key Gallery at The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), beforehand often known as the Prince of Wales Museum, in Mumbai. Under regular circumstances, the scaffolding constructed for the general conservation work of the 107-year-old structure can be a matter of nice inconvenience to the a whole lot of individuals visiting the museum every day. But at present, with the museum “an empty building and most of the galleries lying vacant, the work can be carried out comfortably,” says conservation architect Vikas Dilawari, who’s overseeing the museum’s restoration project. “The dome study and a full scaffolding reaching right up to the top was a crucial one and a noisy affair. The work now is reaching completion, which was possible due to the lockdown.”

When the lockdown made restoration work attainable

This is, maybe, one of many few positives that appear to have emerged within the unprecedented instances that befell the museum in March. For the previous couple of months, the museum administration has been quietly working behind the scenes to step by step reopen to the general public once more. Since January 4, among the museum’s inexperienced areas have opened to the group – two households a day for 2 hours every, by prior appointment. The CSMVS Research Library and the Museum Shop restarted its operations in November final year. “And though we are awaiting the State Government’s directives for re-opening museums and monuments in Maharashtra, the curatorial team at the museum here is working hard to open a special exhibition of Tanjore paintings, exhibiting around 70–80 selected paintings out of the 350 recently received from late Shri Kuldip Singh. This exhibition will be inaugurated shortly, if the authorities permit,” says the museum’s director common, Sabyasachi Mukherjee.

While challenges are a number of and, at instances, appear unsurmountable, the museum’s historical past supplies it a template to bounce again. During the First World War in 1914, the Government of Bombay Presidency had determined to accumulate the museum constructing – designed and constructed by the Scottish architect George Wittet within the Indo-Saracenic model – for short-term use as a conflict hospital named Lady Hardinge War Hospital. “Unfortunately, except for the minutes of a 1922 meeting, the archive does not have much information about the hospital activities,” says Mukherjee. But there may be loads of photographic proof and few newspaper clippings that point out the Lady Hardinge War Hospital was additionally one of many main medical amenities throughout the 1918 flu.”

According to a report printed within the Times of India in April 2020, “the 1918 flu spread through international travel, on steamships and trains packed with soldiers returning from World War I. In India, the disease arrived in Bombay on a trooper ship from Mesopotamia (Iraq) in May…The city’s sickest patients were sent to what is today Kasturba Hospital. The Prince of Wales museum was turned into a hospital for returning flu-hit soldiers.”

From the images, Mukherjee reckons that it’s clear that the hospital served the widespread folks apart from the British military (largely Indian troopers) coming back from Europe, in treating what got here to be often known as the “Bombay fever”.

The fightback

Like most areas that thrive on public patronage, 2020 was certainly a quite difficult year for the museum. The museum has remained closed to guests since March 15, 2020. It was totally off-limits for workers when the full lockdown was imposed almost a week later. “As a result, we have had no income from our ticket sales or any connected revenue,” says Mukherjee. “For a museum that brings together over a million people every year through its external and internal initiatives, the impact the pandemic has had on it is immense.”

The useful resource crunch apart – the price of working the museum is sort of Rs 13 crore yearly – the insufficient workers, and the protection and safety of antiquities and artwork objects threw up additional challenges. The resident members visited the area on a common foundation and moved all delicate objects to the museum’s state-of-the-art climate-controlled storage areas.


Museum’s senior curator on restoration work

CSMVS’ senior curator, Vandana Prapanna, says, “Incidentally, before the lockdown, the curatorial staff was busy reorganising the new climate-controlled storage area, created for textile, miniature and other precious organic material.” But owing to the lockdown, a lot of the work, together with rolling textiles; preparation of archival containers to retailer work; association of foolproof storage facility for objects similar to ivory and stucco; pre-monsoon cleansing of the galleries; section-wise annual checking of the gathering; all got here to a grinding halt. “During the first three months of the lockdown, we experienced so much fear, anxiety and uncertainty. But slowly, we regained our confidence and the staff gradually started coming to office (30 per cent of the total staff strength) and we started de-installing the other exhibition spaces,” says Prapanna.

Along with the assistance of resident workers, Mukherjee eliminated the valuable jewelry and gold cash from the show and saved them in a protected place for safety causes. “It was the second week of May and we could hear the footsteps of monsoon. Manisha Nene (director of collection and general administration), in consultation with the museum director, proposed that we remove the organic materials from the gallery and keep them in the climate-control spaces,” recollects Prapanna. “The challenge was the manpower, availability of space in the storage, and the health and safety of the objects and staff while demounting them.”

Prapanna, together with Nene, Prateek Aroskar and Omkar Kadu from the exhibition and conservation departments respectively, assisted within the marathon job of transporting objects. “In four days, we emptied out the miniature painting gallery, the decorative arts gallery, the Krishna gallery, some of the prints from the prints gallery and the textile gallery. We made a transit lounge to acclimatise these objects before taking them to the climate control storages. We also carried out the checking and cleaning of the objects. Regular monitoring and conserving the objects on display as well as in non-climate-controlled stores was the only solution,” says Prapanna.

The pandemic posed its personal set of challenges, however the harsh monsoon in 2020 solely added to the workers’s woes. The conservation work began in late October 2019 and had simply picked up steam in December. “But due to the lockdown, we had to halt the waterproofing work with terraces completely opened up. We were badly stuck as the brick bat was removed and it was bare slab with no way to drain rainwater. The temporary plastic sheets were not capable of withstanding the storms and rains. It gave us sleepless nights, and it was worrisome, especially for the museum director and staff Ajay Kochle and Bhavdutt Patel,” says Dilwari. “They took the decision to build a temporary shed on these terraces during the lockdown, which in hindsight saved the museum from a likely disaster. We were fortunate that due to COVID protocol, the workers could be housed in the museum and a balance was managed by the museum staff who resided on campus.” But all the sequence of phases of labor that was deliberate – section I: exterior façade repairs; section II: inside repairs; section III: dome examine and repairs – was upended.

According to Prapanna, “The pandemic taught us that we should have a detailed disaster management policy, which also should include pandemic situations, along with other natural disasters. This challenging situation helped us think on our feet, act quickly and approach things positively.”

Realising the ramifications of the virus and the following lockdown early on, Mukherjee shares, “Our employees voluntarily accepted a reduction in their salaries to help the museum in its crisis. The impact of staff contribution inspired our friends and local community in Mumbai. They extended their financial support by adopting museum objects and galleries for two calendar years i.e. 2021–2022.”

The pandemic taught us that we must always have a detailed catastrophe administration coverage, which additionally ought to embrace pandemic conditions, together with different pure disasters. This difficult scenario helped us suppose on our toes, act shortly and method issues positively

Vandana Prapanna, Senior Curator

The collected funds at the moment are getting used for the upkeep of the collections, their storage, in addition to for the important functioning of the area, which helped the museum to face up to the present disaster. The responses had been overwhelming. Veteran funding banker Hemendra Kothari, a outstanding patron of the CSMVS, was the primary to step in to supply monetary help. He says, “I view the cultural institution as a huge contribution to the city, and supporting the museum is a long-term investment.”

While the tip of 1 pandemic (1918) marked the start of a new, vibrant museum on January 10, 1922, it stays to be seen how the current disaster will reshape customer expertise in the way forward for the museum that enters its centenary year in 2022. “The only thing we know is that the museum has to work hard to win the hearts of the local community and visitors by improving infrastructure, exhibition qualities, innovative public programming, and hygiene facilities in the post-Covid era,” says Mukherjee.

Photo by Raju Shinde/ TIL

As a part of its future methods, the museum is now planning to arrange a fashionable gallery devoted to the historical past of the traditional world in collaboration with Getty Foundation. “The new Children’s Museum and the Museum on Wheels at CSMVS are going to play an important role in the future. We hope the post-Covid era will bring people together to learn more about their past, present and future, stimulate new ideas and make them confident to think and work as a responsible community to defeat a future pandemic,” says Mukherjee, including: “I also hope dependence on technology will be reduced drastically in a post-Covid era, as art, after all, is a physical and sensory activity.”

Video by Raju Shinde, Produced by Reema Mukherjee


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