VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM

#INTERNATIONAL MUSEUMS DAY 2019

Victoria and Albert Museum was commissioned in 1855 as a treasure house for decorative’s and industrial arts. The oldest museum of Mumbai located in Byculla was renamed as Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in 1972 to honor Dr. Bhau Daji Lad (1824-74, an Indian physician and scholar).

As I entered the museum compound, I saw a long queue outside the ticket counter. What surprised me that despite the scorching summer heat tourists stood in the line patiently. After inquiring from a security personnel, I came to know that the line was for National Park which is adjacent to the museum. Thanking the personal I felt relieved to escape this test of patience and proceeded towards the museum building which has a separate ticket counter.

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A middle aged man in a white shirt seated behind the ticket counter covered with iron grill and old teak wood frame was distributing printed tickets using an old printing machine. My turn arrived quickly as only one family was in front of me. Seeing a shorter queue at the Museum vis-a-vis the National Park, I could conclude that the National park attracted more tourists, at least during summer time when most schools are shut and families travel for fun and recreation. Nevertheless, I went about my scheduled plan of seeing the Museum. Near the main entrance lobby, I deposited my bag and water bottle with the security who issued a token number in return of my belongings and that’s a standard policy for all other visitors.

After approaching the main entrance door a strange thing that caught my attention was an Elliptical Turnstile. Also called as Turn Style gate, it provides restricted access to people and is sometimes used to impose single way movement of crowd. At times, to give paid access once you enter a coin, ticket or a pass. Nowadays, a visitor is no longer required to insert a ticket to enter inside but I am assuming it must have been a practice in olden times. These days, the modern versions of these gates are commonly seen at places like airports, public transportation, banks, office buildings and paid toilet facilities.

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With no one else behind me, I took a while to observe the gate and clicked pictures. People of that era were pretty much foresighted to come up with this kind of security check point which holds relevance even today. Presently, its more effective for slowing down movement of large crowds is what I feel. Interestingly, when most tourist destinations face constant threat from anti-social groups, a turn style gate has an important role to play.  But as a security measure how much safety it ensures in this modern age is something to think about.

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This particular gate in the Museum serves only as a piece of exhibit. I even realized that not everyone noticed this black metal piece while entering inside as closely as I was observing it. People were just walking pass this ugly looking barrier. (It’s your right to appreciate it if you have found it to be good looking, no one would protest). Repainted in black color to boost its appearance, in reality the turn style lacks any style. I believe it’s become a part of the heritage collection due to its ‘age’ which is one of the factor to determine the antique value of any piece of art. Or could be that I am over reacting and being too critical. Someone has quoted “Its not necessary to react to everything you notice”. So it also implies that the other visitors are following this phrase ūüôā

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Moving in, a grand hall awaits to mesmerize the visitors. The central hall has a rectangular layout with open views of upper gallery. The mint green and off white colored gorgeous ceiling is too spectacular to miss. The elaborate ceiling has stenciled square shape designs, arcs supported by pillars, golden borders, stained glasses and yellow lamps adding to its glory. Minton-tile floor, Ornate columns, chandeliers and staircase reminds you of the long British connection with India. The Museum Restoration Project won the 2005 UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Award of Excellence for Conservation.

Most of the Museum collection and art pieces are placed along the side walls and the centre area is kept open.

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Splendid white Marble Statues are a feast for the eyes. A nine feet tall centerpiece statue of Prince Albert is placed behind the bust of Sir David Sassoon, an affluent Baghdadi trader who with his generosity funded this marble statue. The attractive figure of Prince Albert whose looking straight is seen in his ceremonial robes, while the two female figures on either sides in flowing gowns, wavy hair studded with flowers are a symbol of art and science.

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On the back side there are two more bust’s – Queen Victoria and Mountstuart Elphinstone.

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Audio Exhibition is something I saw or rather heard for the first time. Typically Museums have galleries for artists to showcase their work and hold exhibitions for a certain period or on special occasions.

I walked inside a room where Audio exhibition was in progress. To simply put, the room was empty, lonely, a little dark and secluded. A tape recorder kept in a corner with a pair of speakers was playing an interview in English. I found myself in the room in the company of six chairs and a center table laid on the carpet. Photo frames on one side of the wall and a wooden showcase with glass doors were facing each other at opposite ends.

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A CCTV camera mounted on the top right side of the wall kept an eye on me and in between, four to five visitors made a quick visit inside and disappeared in no time in one flow.¬†Quietly standing, I was still attempting to get a sense of the audio artwork and the concept of this Audio Exhibition. My five senses didn’t suffice or came together strongly to trigger the sixth one, to help me understand this art form. As a visitor it wasn’t clear to me if I was suppose to sit and listen to the radio output. If yes, for how long? Any entertainment? A program chart could have helped. A better idea is that the curator of the exhibition should have been present to¬†interact with the visitors, especially confused souls like me with little knowledge of such evolved art.

The collection of this museum is average (my view) and a self guided tour can be completed in ninety minutes at an easy pace.   

Few more pictures taken during my visit to Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum:

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Founders Gallery
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Painting Exhibition
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Garden view from the Upper Gallery
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Fountain gracing the lawn of Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum.

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Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai

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