Bihar Museum Biennale, a curation of nostalgia

Monica Arora

As a curation of memories, museums are custodians of objects that carry with them auras of a bygone era. Therefore, museum spaces have a unique sanctity in terms of the repository they carry. As an ode to museums situated in India and abroad, the Bihar Museum Biennale is the first museum biennale in the world. Conceived by Anjani Kumar Singh, the nodal officer of the Bihar Museum and adviser to the Chief Minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, along with the CM, this is a one-of-its kind attempt to present the art housed within museums and make art more accessible to the masses.

Owing to the pandemic, the biennale was shifted from March 2020 to 2021 and this year, it is taking place largely as an online event from March 22-28 and has a diminished physical presence at the Bihar Museum in Patna.

Lifesize 5’X 2” tall statue of Didarganj Yakshini at the Bihar Museum.

Art historian and curator Alka Pande, the project director of the biennale, elaborates: “The inspiration has been the state of Bihar. As an art historian, I have always believed that Bihar has been an integral part of Indian history. It was the seat of the origin of the Maurayan Empire and Emperor Ashoka was the voice of peace and integrity for ancient India.

“This was the state where cultural emblems such as the Ashoka Pillar and the Ashok Chakra originated. The first President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad, had said, ‘The history of Bihar is the history of India.’ The seamless transformation from Patliputra to Patna has been the story of Indian politics, humanism, and religion,” she says.

Twelve Indian museums and six international ones are participating. These include the Assam State Museum; City Palace Museum, Udaipur; Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya, Bhopal; Kanha Museum of Life and Art, Madhya Pradesh; Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi; Museo Camera, Gurugram; Museum of Art & Photography, Bengaluru; Museum of Goa, Panaji; National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi; Piramal Museum, Mumbai, and Virasat-e-Khalsa, Anandpur Sahib. The National Museum of Columbia, the Museo Marino Marini in Italy, the National Museum of Interventions in Mexico and several international museums are also represented.

International speakers such as British art historian Neil MacGregor; director of Digital at the Tate, UK, Hilary Knight; Scientific, Curatorial and Collections management director at Louvre, Abu Dhabi, Souraya Noujaim, and many others are an integral part of this cultural extravaganza that draws to an end today.

As Pande elucidates, “The event includes two days of international conferences, and four days of master-class sessions, most of which are bilingual. These are designed in order to connect people and cultures with the interdisciplinary aspect of visual arts. With the inclusion of national and international museums at the biennale, the museum is then perceived as a melting pot of ideas and cross-cultural learnings.”

The Bihar Museum essentially comprises the history galleries and the art gallery, besides the contemporary Children’s Gallery. For Pande, “It is a repository of the rich artistic treasure of Bihar. For instance, the Didarganj Yakshini, a majestic 5’X 2” tall statue, is an epitome of the power, grace and beauty of the Indian woman. Three chests depicted in the exhibits of Sher Shah Suri depict the copper paisa, the silver rupiah and the gold mohurs that he created. Plus the enamouring Kurkihar bronzes are part of the hidden treasures of the Bihar museum.”

The Bihar Biennale has set a benchmark in virtual art viewings, particularly in context of the world turning from physical to virtual post-pandemic. As Pande says, “The dynamism of the ever-evolving white cube space will acquire an even more vibrant dimension when observed as the virtual.”

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