“There’s a powerful moment when you walk past the translucent panels that visually convey the story of transgender women and their desires,” says Shilpa Vijayakrishnan reflectively. The Head of Education & Outreachat the Museum of Art and Photography, she adds: “It’s immersive and at that moment, you are completely drawn into their perspectives. It challenges our thinking like never before including arguments about gender and morality and struggle and existence. And as it does, I think we become more than just visitors to a museum; we become their story and they form part of ours.”
Shilpa is describing a work commissioned by MAP—with Media and Arts Collective, Maraa, and community organization, Payana. Her words speak to a significant shift in how museums like ours approach visitor experiences today.
More than entertainment, MAP wants to engage visitors on multiple levels and in a warm and engaging space. This reflects a larger reality: we live and breathe in a multi-dimensional reality: breathing, touching, seeing, feeling and tasting a variety of sensory inputs that shape our responses to the world. These interactions are intensified by our expectations of a digital, and increasingly interactive, world.
For even as we acknowledge changing patterns of learning and interaction, then we must equally recognize that we cannot simply remain comfortable with dutiful ‘shuffle-by-a-display-case-of historic and cultural artefacts’ moments.
History and art are vital elements of our unspoken connection to ourselves and the lands we live in. Yet, museums in India are not necessarily part of our everyday lives. How do we build a museum-going culture? It’s something we think about in-depth at MAP.
Bridging the digital
It is perhaps natural to turn toward the endless possibilities offered by technology and this is in addition to making collections available online in multiple languages. Immersive experiences are increasingly popular, offering visitors the chance to ‘walk into and around’ works of art, or—as MAP did recently—allow users to interact with the late artist, M.F. Husain, through holograms. This step into the world of virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and the ability to connect with the museum on our phones, expands the possibilities of art and photography to create personalization unlike any other.
Is the answer always digital?
While technology has irrevocably changed how we all interact with information, the answer to increasing engagement within a museum isn’t—interestingly—all digital. And it has little to do with the size of a museum’s collection.
It comes down to how we—as curators—think laterally about both exhibits and the visitors. In essence, how do we take a museum out of four walls – and get people thinking beyond canvases and sculptures?
One of our more fascinating, and well-attended, events focused on psycho-sensorial mapping—using a radius around the museum to create individual sensory maps of the area. The results illustrate how well museums and communities can come together to create and preserve cultural artefacts. Events like this form part of our growing community outreach programs that include schools and other educational institutions.
They remind us that even as we talk of the evolution of museums and creating a museum-going culture, we must also remember golden words from the 18th century. Words to live by, from Benjamin Franklin:
Tell me and I forget
Teach me and I remember
Involve me and I learn.
Join us at MAP in person, and online. https://map-india.org/
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