Sunday, 10 July 2011

National Museum artefacts 1: the oversized chair

It's raining today. Not just a monsoon flash-in-a-pan downpour, but a steady stream that's English in is constancy and Indian in its heaviness. Outside my window the street is already flooded (note to Sheila Dikshit: now that the Metro is such a success, how about focusing on the city's drainage system?).

So I think I will be staying home today. Happily, as I mentioned in my last post, I've stored up plenty of things to blog about, not least the brilliant National Museum, which, displaying though it does but a tiny fraction of the country's artistic and cultural heritage (and short though it is on explanatory displays) is one of the most fascinating museums I've been to in a while.

Originally I was going to snap some of the more interesting exhibits and put them all in a single post, but I got quite carried away and took photos of well over a dozen. So I'm going to drip feed them into the blog in a series of short posts which will make me look like a seriously prolific blogger. I hope you find this vaguely interesting!

Most of the museum's prize exhibits are on the ground floor, but I'm going to start with something that is tucked away on the top floor. It grabbed me from the moment I saw it and still fascinates me with questions. It was in a section ambiguously entitled "ethnic art", which I think means it comes from one of the tribal areas in Central-Eastern India. But there was absolutely no information to accompany it whatsoever, leaving me to conjecture about its possible origin and meaning.

When I first saw it I actually thought it was some strange kind of chariot with two people at the reins. It's made of metal and the figures perched on the edge combined with the dangling circles of metal shapes at the back and the little animal figures made me think of the Sharmanka kinetic theatre I saw recently in Glasgow (by the way, if you're ever in Glasgow do go and see that, it's really incredible).

But then I realised that if this thing were to lurch into life like Sharmanka's creations, it would be going nowhere - the figures are perched on the edge of a chair that's far too large for them (the whole thing is a little bit larger than a regular dining room chair). Why? What's the significance of what they are holding (the male figure on the right has an axe, the female on the left a basket)? Why is the male's arm lowered and the female's raised?

There are so many little details to enjoy. The little birds perched behind the couple, looking back at the viewer (you can see one just above the female figure's raised arm); the incredible decoration of the female figure's ears; the calm and somewhat complacent expression on the faces.

I kind of wish there had been some information about the piece. But at the same time it's fun to be able to use your imagination a bit about what it all means (I'm going with some kind of wedding celebration). And it's just an extraordinary thing to look at.

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