Every year, May 18 is celebrated as International Museum Day (IMD), which aims to raise awareness of cultural exchange and the development of mutual understanding between people from different countries and civilizations. The practice started since 1977 continues to inspire museums around the world to be professional in their maintenance and to make them more interactive so that people and especially children can feel the liveliness of the place that educates them about history. artifacts, paintings, articles. or documentation of historical facts.
“The Power of Museums” is the theme of International Museum Day 2022. Last year, around 37,000 museums in 158 countries and territories around the world participated in this annual event and the number this year is expected to increase, Jammu being as usual an important ally in the celebrations in his own way. The Dogra Art Museum, located inside the historic Mubarak Mandi complex, also keeps pace with these internationally renowned events and tries to involve school children and commoners, but some shortcomings limit the scope of its celebrations.
The Dogra Art Museum houses artifacts, manuscripts and paintings related to history and art. Otherwise, countries around the world have museums solely dedicated to aircraft, science, general artifacts, natural history, science, and even war that continue to educate people about civilizations, nations, products and science, allowing future generations to learn from the past and evolve in their own fields accordingly. Very recently, India has added a film museum to its treasury which portrays the achievement of the film world of Mumbai as well as South India.
With the passage of time and the pandemics that have hit the world, virtual museums have also surfaced, but the physical presence of objects can never replace electronic forms. A visit to the public structure to experience and learn about local history matches no virtual detail and that is why museums around the world continue to be on every visitor’s itinerary. However, several poorly designed museums never attract visitors. The Dogra Art Museum also belongs to such a category which has always been neglected and its objects have seen a new home every few years without following any museum ethos.
The Dogra Art Museum, which is looked after by the Directorate of Archives, Archeology and Museums, has a treasure in the form of rare Basholi paintings, objects, terracotta heads and very old manuscripts and rare in addition to dozens of important documents and armory, but moving them frequently is unethical. museums. Every museum follows a certain collection ethic and management, but here in Jammu, a laid-back approach not only makes these valuable collections vulnerable to damage, but also does not allow the museum to establish itself as an important place.
These precious collections were first housed in a small room within the civil secretariat complex. There, after being moved to another room in Gandhi Bhawan located next to the new secretariat building and named Dogra Art Gallery. There, after being dislocated again and moved to an even larger two-storey hall in the Mubarak Mandi Heritage complex with a public library. Erected to commemorate the arrival of the British monarch Edward VII in Jammu as Prince of Wales in 1875, this building has also been derelict and the artifacts have again been dismantled. Going against museum ethics, the artifacts have this time been moved to their current location in a complex called the former army headquarters.
It is perhaps the only museum so far that has not been able to find a suitable place to display its objects. Today, it is also housed in an old but renovated structure where museum-related modifications can never be executed, even if it is to create a simple ramp for the elderly or wheelchair users. . Although the museum authorities largely follow all the ethics related to collection management, but when it comes to following other guidelines, they fail miserably due to the restricted working areas.
The complex in which this museum is located is in a dilapidated state with piles of rubbish and building materials strewn around where dust continues to pour into the museum. A dilapidated park in front of the complex, poorly maintained roads, restricted entrances, mountains of rubbish, endless restoration work, a poor skyline, no public facilities and drinking water, only a few selected artifacts are exposed, poor housekeeping, intense heat without any air conditioning and proper signage welcomes visitors to our only museum. Despite such a mess, the authorities still try to keep a face to welcome the visitors, whose number is negligible.
In fact, this museum requires a professionally designed building where ancient artifacts that showcase the grandeur of preserved memories from different stages of human evolution or Jammu’s history can be exhibited. This Dogra Art Museum not only requires a well-planned structure that could become the heart and soul of the artifacts, but also needs a place where the needs for preservation, exhibition, preparation and education could all go hand in hand to allow visitors to enjoy essential facilities and spaces.
Our museum, housed in a former army headquarters where old building materials were used to synchronize it with the heritage of the Mubarak Mandi complex, is absolutely not suitable for displaying artifacts for the simple reason that artifacts accumulate dust on it in no time and housekeeping becomes absolutely impossible. The museum also needs separate rooms for conservation procedures. Thus, the building is absolutely not a place to house precious objects or display rare and expensive paintings.
Whether those responsible for business intend to retain this building as the final site of the museum of historical or architectural significance or are planning to move to a new location, the museum must match the quality and distinction that the exhibits bring him. In fact, the museum must have a multifunctional character. While the building should have enough open space, it should also have strong security controls to protect the collections in addition to having public facilities including gift shops, restaurants, audio-video displays, laboratories , workshop spaces, offices and rooms for holding interactive sessions.
Museums, reflections of cultural heritage, sources of natural history and facilities for leisure and recreation, must be interactive. The Union Territory government should also encourage private museums so that those who visit them can collect artifacts or documents relating to different subjects and let generations know about the historical significance of their past. For example, the air force in Jammu can establish an air museum, the printing industry can have its museum describing its evolution, Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC) can develop a museum describing how Jammu has was created and is developing, allowing future architects to learn more about this art. of architecture.
Ministries of education, tourism, defence, environment, culture and many others can create their museums to let people know how they have evolved over time. Some security agencies such as the Border Security Forces (BSF) have kept mortar shells fired by Pakistan in Suchetgarh and if they expand their horizon, a full-fledged war museum can be created to describe the management borders, conflict management, religious places at the borders and how BSF had been at the borders since partition.
It is perhaps for the first time that the Dogra Art Museum, after a long time, has a professional curator. Museum collections, their documentation, scientific information and the treatment of collections to prevent their deterioration could become professional now. Despite this, the museum lacks professional security, designers, public relations officer, education and interpretation specialists and allied specialist staff.
The lack of adequate funding for a museum like the Dogra Art Museum limits its activities to a few occasions and is limited to a few visitors. The government should either involve private partners, fund the museum adequately, or create an atmosphere in which the museum becomes self-sufficient. Charging a handsome entrance fee, organizing business activities, creating groups like “friends of the museum” or involving business houses can generate enough resources for the museum to carry out its main activities and also become self-sufficient. .
Encouraging heterogeneous collections across the length and breadth of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir can add more to the collections. Smuggling of items acquired from distant locations in UT and from those who do not know the value of such items must also be controlled. Besides collecting materials through archaeological excavations, ethnological expeditions or natural science fieldwork should also be set up to collect objects from commoners or collectors.
We hope that future museums in Jammu, including the existing one, will keep people’s point of view in mind, display artefacts in chronological order, repair panels, install video screens, arrange proper lighting, including including sunlight or artificial lighting as required, will facilitate easy museum navigation for visitors and, most importantly, locate museums in well-designed buildings within the city limits that become accessible to visitors. All this is necessary because museums can transform the world around us and also teach us about our past while opening our minds to new ideas so that we can lead a better life.
(The author is a seasoned journalist and his views reflect his visit to the British Museum, London and the Lone Star Flight Museum, Texas)