My project will trace the shifting practices of museum-making in Bihar by juxtaposing the history of the Bihar Museum (Estd. 2017) against the history of the Patna Museum (Estd. 1917). In doing so it will locate the Indian museum movement within the identity politics in postcolonial South Asia. The Patna Museum was instrumental in forging regional identities vis-à-vis the anti-colonial national movement in South Asia, while the Bihar Museum was an assertion of a modern Bihari identity in a postcolonial time. Scholars have extensively debated the exhibitionary spaces and collections at the Patna Museum, but the Bihar Museum, including its strategic and controversial overshadowing of the Patna Museum, remain under-discussed in contemporary scholarly engagements. Indeed, much of the new Bihar Museum’s collections was made up at the expense of the old collection of the Patna Museum, including the Chauri Bearer or the Didarganj Yakshi, famous for her Mauryan polish and her modern political import.
The Government of Bihar argued that the new museum was necessary to foreground Bihar’s history, tradition, achievements, and reinvent Bihari identity for a global age by employing new-age technology and contemporary curatorial practices. The global Bihari identity manifested in the museum in two forms: the organization of galleries, especially the first-ever Indian gallery dedicated to the Girmitiya (indentured laborers who travelled overseas and remains marginalized in Indian history) and in the architectural vision for the museum. The Girmitiya Gallery valorizes the contribution of the Bihari diaspora in their adopted countries, including Fiji, Trindade, and others, and thereby emphasizes the global Bihari presence. The architecture of the museum charts this global connection though simultaneous usage of traditional building material like terracotta with the Corten Steel, by employing a Japanese firm famous for its contemporary design, and by completing the project in an unprecedented speed of four years.
Juxtaposing the Bihar Museum’s twenty-first-century global aspirations against Patna Museum’s early-twentieth-century regional-national desires, I will argue that power relations in museums are not limited to exhibitionary practices, but extend to the creation of new museum spaces and in reinventing identities of political boundaries they inhabit.
museum, Bihar, identify politics, post-colonial India
Mr. Ajay Salunkhe
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences,
Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati