We need extraordinary museums for these extaordinary times. We need archives that reconnect us to critical histories and invisible pasts. We need collections that provoke thought and inspire moral engagement. We need heritage sites that help us look back in order to imagine new political futures. And yet. And yet … Our colonial-era museums, our Ajeeb Ghars – once considered Houses of Wonder, jadu ghars – have become either mausoleums, full of cobwebbed artifacts and neglected artworks, or moral science lessons that bear no contemporary relevance to our lives. Our archives are used to reinvent the past according to the flavor and politics of the month. Our heritage sites are allowed to crumble and fester if they clash with the practical needs of urban living (and given urban sprawl in India, they always do).
In their current state, these former ‘sublime musayums’ (in Meg Armstrong’s lovely phrase) have lost all magic; all sense of play. They don’t just impede change, or development, they are its very antithesis. Its time to let in some sunshine and subject these cultural institutions to critical scrutiny, cautious reinvention and tender loving care in order to bring back their Wonder. And in so doing, to use them as powerful tools for imagination, education, engagement, and social change.
Ajeebghar.com is a site about old-fashioned Wonder in contemporary museum contexts:
where archival collections meet source communities
where cultural industries engage with indigenous makers and users
where Art intersects with Science, Nature with Culture, Heritage with History as Musayums and Curiosity Cabinets tumble down the rabbithole and into the 21st century.
Quests, Goals, Windmills
To reimagine the multiple meanings of the (ethnographic) Museum
To refigure the (colonial) Archive
To repatriate Heritage (tangible, intangible, digital)
To relocate Art, Craft, and Identity in the Post Colony …
… In Hyderabad, Washington DC, and other museum Elsewheres.
Putting the Past Forward. Putting Wonder back in Place. Letting curiosity out of the cabinet. One Ajeeb Ghar at a time.