The exhibition of ethnographic objects in museums is one of the possible approaches to culture, as the analysis of artefact shows the lifestyles and practices of a culture and gives the spectator the power to control what he is seeing and exploring it directly. The observation of presented artifacts and collected documents concerns a relevant production of knowledge in social science research and it has been one of the classical tools for tangible heritage studies. In support of this, I have recently started a research in London about Indian contemporary design related to its traditions, and one of the most relevant and useful sources for the first approach to the subject has been, perhaps not surprisingly, a museum.
In ‘SAR- the essence of Indian design’ it is stated that in India the relationship with objects, recipes, and ways of living or modes of dresses is mediated through time and space, and its energy has permeated for centuries graphics, illustrations and fashion. “Our future is where our past is:” stated professor Tamar Katriel relatively to heritage: as a result, after visiting the Neasden Temple in order to get a taste of how Indians address to religion and how this multifarious community is strongly influenced by moments of reflections and rituals, the second source that I considered for the research has been the Victory & Albert museum, one of the world’s most significant museums for the study of art and design from South Asia. The richness of artefacts was not only inspiring, but also scientifically valuable, as inspiration from the collective memory and visual landscape seems crucial for understanding India’s art. Through the observation of furniture, metalwork, clothes, tapestries it has been possible to get an idea of the complex mix of ingenuity, materiality and beauty that have shaped Indian design until now. Moreover, the plurality of techniques, skills, materials and objects gives a clear demonstration of how design in India has always been an implicit and silent presence.
The physical analysis of pieces of work and their visual appearence can significantly impact the perception of a culture and as a result, tangible heritage is crucial to study human history since objects provide a consistent foundation for ideas. The preservation into museums shows evidence of the stories that past can teach, as well as the evidence that reserved objects and their authenticity, as opposed to a reproduction, draws people in and gives them a real feeling of touching the past. The considerations drawn from my visit at the V& A, were only the basis for larger debates that, starting in the 50’ with the ‘India Report’ (1957) by Charles and Ray Eames in order to give a precise identity to Indian design, have been going on into the design world until now. But this direct contact with the physical objects, in the first stage of my ethnographic approach gave me a meaningful introduction and an emotional input for moving further into the research.
Tamhane, S. & Varma, R.(2016) Sar: The essence of Indian design. London: Phaidon Press Limited