The following is an extract from a larger essay published in The Caravan. To read the full article, click here.

As museums and scholars around the globe varyingly interpret and debate decolonisation, there has been scant conversation around it in India. What does confronting colonialism mean for the museums in India? Is the ghost of the colonial past only for British museums to exorcise? Are museums in India, by the virtue of being in a post-colonial society, free of colonialism?

A representation of a woman from Odisha’s Gadaba tribe at the Government Museum in Chennai. India’s colonial mindset can be seen in its interaction with tribal culture, symbolically preserving it in glass cases for the clinical observation of largely non-tribal visitors, while encroaching upon tribal habitations and land rights. COURTESY WHY VISIT LONDON PROJECT

With the formal transfer of power from the colonial to Indian state, India began to fully exercise its sovereignty over…


In the first part of the article, I had shared some of my observations and learnings from my yearlong research stay in Germany as a Humboldt Fellow. I wrote about the need to adopt an integrated approach towards learning such that various departments in a museum work in tandem rather than in silos. I also discussed how inviting active participation of visitors in museum education, curation and design helps museums to stay relevant and be useful to diverse members of society.

In this article, I reflect on technology in museums and interactive spaces for young visitors.

Technology and Interactivity:

Digital…


The German Chancellor Fellowship awarded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in 2018 afforded me the opportunity to study diverse approaches to education in German museums. (Read more about my project here). In this two-part series, I will share some of my observations and learnings from my yearlong research stay in Germany as a Humboldt Fellow.

Before I dive in, I would like to begin with a disclaimer. First, museums in India, with respect to their funding structure, policy, history and reception, are different from museums in Germany. Many of us tend to look at these differences as a ‘lack’…


One of the many criticisms that museums face today is its failure to address the needs of their younger audiences. The hands-off and no talking policy, overwhelming stately architecture, obscure language and unfamiliar references pose formidable problems for children.

Children’s Museum, on the other hand, encourage children and teens to touch, play, interact and explore in a unique environment especially designed to augment their learning and sense of wonder. The language of the text and signage is simple; the furniture, props and other materials are child friendly and appropriate. …


The first museum in India was established in 1814 following on the heels of museum-making that had swept Europe in the late 18th century. Though located closely in time, the reception, function and development of museums in India could not have been more different than its European counterpart. The survival of museums in India, a western import to the subcontinent, is characterised by remarkable shape shifting- from being important sites for the materialisation of colonial knowledge- gathering and later, the performance of nationhood, to its present day resurrection as places of memorialisation, community engagement, and scientific and cultural learning. …


An ordinary stainless steel rimmed bucket spills a cartload of shiny kitchenware and bartans onto the floor of an erstwhile Maharaja’s palace grounds. The monstrosity of the multiple fallen forms is further underscored by the gigantic tilted bucket suspended in mid air that has eerily outgrown its conventional size. The lustrousness of the material is met with the sonic imagination of a catastrophic spill. Titled “Ray” after the great Surrealist artist Man Ray, the artist creates a dialogue with the Western avant garde by bringing the language of readymades and installations home.

Ray, 2012, Stainless steel utensils, 400 x 400 x 600 cm, Image Courtesy Arario Gallery and Artist.

Known for spectacularising the mundane and monumentalising the…


A walk through a Tallur show guarantees a surreal play off on museum artefact with objects that bespeak a language of absurdities and tell tales of agony and anxiety. Known for appropriating Indian mythology, ancient art and architecture into postmodern sculpture and installation to make a serrate commentary about the present, Tallur’s newest exhibition at Nature Morte, New Delhi does not disappoint. …


Mirror shards, watches, mechanical junk, hardware parts, golden beads, glitter construct a woman’s bust on paper, while from her bosom emerge a series of ethereal red roses-their lightness well contrasted with the heaviness of the robotic women. The nose accessory, forehead bindi and the facial features bespeak a South Asian face. These women are often part goddess-part cyborg; deified as superwomen and demonised as monsters. They are three headed, three eyed and three breasted, the mouth carrying a ferocious projecting dentition. There is a perverse delight in nudity; breasts are frontally represented with nipples as plastic affixations to resemble Turkish…


Curtains part to give entry into the scene of the Last Supper when Christ discloses that one of his twelve apostles will betray him. The scene is characterised by chaos and cacophony, suspension of volume and depth and a severe compression of pictorial space. The figure of Christ looms large occupying the centre of the composition. The posture and the iconography of the figures remind the viewer of a kathputli performance contributing a hint of movement as well as stiffness to their bodies. …


How museums embody ideas for teaching and learning in the 21st century

In today’s education system characterised by chalk and talk teaching and standardised tests, how can we facilitate better conceptual learning, deeper engagement with ideas and build capacities to confront complex 21st-century challenges?

©Museum of Art and Photography, Bangalore

The answer lies beyond the classroom in a unique, informal setting — in museums and museum-like environments like heritage sites, art galleries, science centres, archaeological sites, bio-diversity parks and gardens (hereafter collectively referred to as museums). But what do museums have to offer that is different from classrooms? How do museums invite teaching and learning for the 21st-century?

Learning in a museum makes classroom subjects come alive. Imagine…

Habiba Insaf

Museum educator & arts manager from India. German Chancellor Fellow based in Berlin. Website : www. habibainsaf.com

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