Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

This was my first visit to a museum of this kind. Not exactly the first visit to a museum as I had visited one back in Bombay when I was a child. But the previous experience had left me feeling much apprehensive for this one. Moreover the word 'Art' in the name ranged alarm bells in my ears. As even though I appreciate art I have no technical sense as one of my friend who is a great painter. So I feared I would be easily spotted out as a naive amongst the 'elite class'. Par fiter toh mai hu hi.. So I mustered all the courage (The little Technical Art Wisdom I have, in case I end up in an artistic conversation with fellow visitors) and entered the museum ...lekar prabhu ka naam.

To my astonishment it was not the 'Modern Art on paper' that I had envisaged. It was truly a holistic art museum if one may say so. The 'art' comprising vivid expressions of human society and thus was obviously out of the bounds of 2-dimensional sheets. Though there were some canvases as well but even they seemed to bring alive multiple dimensions in their portrayal. Thus I was now on a comfortable pasture but the ground to be covered was even more stupendous task. So I decided to take free guided tours with the museum personnel to the various galleries in the museum each lasting about an hour and half ish.

It started with the 'Art of the Asia' tour. The firang lady guide first took us to the Indian section. Showed us a Ganesha statue procured from a place dating to 13th century A.D. Madhya Pradesh. Now this was amazing.. Imagine hearing the story of Ganesha from a firang. And she told us the story about the birth of Ganesha. It sounded wonderful coming from her. After this, how could mostlybhu remain silent? So, I told her and the fellow visitors another story of Ganesha which everyone seemed to enjoy :) Then came other deities, coins, stone engravings all belonging to various dates back in various points in time of the Indian civilisation. There were some early Indian paintings too.. mostly on tree bark kind of stuff. Next came the Buddha section and the Chinese gallery. This I must say was one of the most humbling experience for me. We all know that though Buddhism started in India but its true growth actually took place in China. The museum's effort in creating a 'real' Buddhist temple of the 8-10th century A.D. was simply awesome. There were a huge wonderful collection of statues of various Buddhas. Yes for the uninitiated like me, there are actually believed to be different Buddhas with different characteristics in Buddhism. And this was the advantage of a guide that we were provided key inputs from the civilisation during those times. It helped as it came from rigorous program that each guide has to go and was certainly more than what we have read from our history books.

Next was the Chinese section that raised a few deep thoughts in my mind. May be we Indians have a grudge against the modern day China mostly because of our experiences, competition, oppressive communist policies of China or whatever. But there really existed a profound exchange of ideas between the early Indian and Chinese civilisation and that was clearly evident in the galleries. Also after seeing the Chinese culture in their architecture (that was displayed through a 8th century A.D. Chinese house), paintings and other symbols I am totally convinced about the proximity of both cultures. Moreover, seeing the progression it was quite apparent that we seemed to have forgotten our roots (may be because of the Mughal invasion, the British Colonalisation or whatver) while the Chinese through their diligence have built upon their base (may be by resisting all invasions??) to achieve what they have achieved so far. Thus, now I am not as frustrated on seeing a Chinese in US as I am on seeing an Indian in US. The only reason being the difference in their attitude. Hope the future generation including me realise our potential as has been documented in the vedas and the Upanishadas. We have a way to go before even thinking of 'calling Bombay the Shanghai of India' or even 'blaming the Chinese Communism for the failure of Nuclear Deal'. There is a severe need for introspection.

Finally came the Japanese section which was more of an influence of Chinese culture. The only different aspects being the vividly coloured Kimonos on display and the Samurai culture. As I was wondering over the Chinese section didn't get to absorb much of the Japanese section.

Thus the tour ended and came the realisation that yours truly was infact out of the lab on the pretext of attending a technical conference (which had actually finished before I entered the museum ;) ) and thus needed to get back to the lab ASAP. Fortunately, I could revisit the museum on my ticket. So I decided to cover up 'The Egyptian and the Ancient Greek and Roman World' in my next trip. As I am not used to writing long posts, I would cover up the other tour, which was equally enlightening, some other time.

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