Sunday, April 13, 2014

Projective Histories II : The case of the Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum in Bhopal.

Projective Histories II : The case of the Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum in Bhopal.

One cannot escape the rhetoric of the innumerable debates over the current Lok Sabha elections in India. Manifestos of development, anti-corruption, morality etc. propped up by an opportunistic sub-text of identity. Culturally this overt generalization of a pan-Indian identity can be refuted by the oft-used argument about India's diversity.
Last week a chance trip to Bhopal and a fortuitous visit to what is arguably one of the best curated moments of Tribal and Folk art in India, proved a strong reminder of the richness and specificity to place that makes it impossible to encapsulate the diversity of our nation within a singular logic.

Museum Entrance

Entrance Wall Detail

Column Detail

The Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum located in Bhopal is an institution of the state's Department of Culture. The Revathi & Vasanth Kamath designed museum building is a collection of lofty heighted ceiling spaces connected by circulation spaces, which do little to build a sequential experience. But one notices this only in passing primarily because of the immersive nature of the exhibit. Curated by Ashok Mishra, Editor/Curator of the museum along with Chandan Singh Bhati, the creative force in realizing the various art works, the installations take over the building making the tribal spirit of the work omnipresent.

Dussera Chariot

Dussera Chariot Detail

The mounting of the exhibits is monumental; it’s scale challenging perceptions of traditional tribal culture. However what transforms this exhibition and all it’s parts, distinguishing it from other such efforts is the skillful informality of their articulation and the seemingly random adjacency they seem to create.

Terracotta Grave Detail

Terracotta Grave Installation

The experience is overwhelming almost creating the illusion of having walked into a living tribal settlement with the distance of the object from the viewer reduced to nothing. The seeming lack of overarching authorship and hence self-consciousness is the exhibition’s most sophisticated move.

Terracotta Screen

Terracotta Screen Detail

Metal Window Grill

Materials and objects become realizations of evolving traditional technique to sustain narrative through the various exhibits. Techniques are revised, materials altered, objects hybridized. Nothing is sacrosanct, and culture thus becomes an evolving idea. The tribal artist emboldened by his freedom from traditional limitations of material and process catalyzes the evolution of his craft, referencing Richard Sennet's work on the notion of craft also needing to be placed in the context of its time and technique. It is clear that this exhibition of tribal culture is not in the least a sum of it's 'museumification' but really about the potential in its evolution.  

The exhibition is undoubtedly limited by its location, even though control of the container over the contained is obliterated over time spent within the space, the exhibits warrant the freedom of a more magnificent setting outdoors.

Tribal Sport

The exhibit brings to light both the need to question the growing placelessness of modernity’s manifestation and its reduction of traditional aesthetic/building cultures to mere tokenism. If one is to believe that tradition is simultaneously evolving in the present as much as it has in the past, the Tribal Museum in Bhopal provides invaluable lessons in the projection of its future.


  1. Thanks for sharing. Truly a must visit. Proud to be part of this diverse culture.