MAP India Museum of Art & Photography tackles biases and the male gaze

Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

India’s long-awaited MAP Museum of Art and Photography, a major new cultural institution in the southern city of Bengaluru, welcomed its first visitors this month, offering a glimpse into a collection of 60,000 items that could help inform the art history of the sub -department reframing.

Set across a new five-story building, the private museum — as the name suggests — focuses on pre-modern, modern and contemporary art, as well as photography. But its rich archive of textiles, crafts and print advertising speaks to a wider mission: to erode the distinction between “fine” art and what the museum describes as “everyday creativity”.

Bollywood memorabilia and traditional woven fabrics are on display along with ancient bronzes and carved deities. MAP founder, businessman and philanthropist Abhishek Poddar, said the collection “puts everything together.”

“The complete differentiation between ‘high’ art and ‘low’ art, decorative arts and fine arts is not an Indian concept,” Poddar, who is among the country’s most prominent art collectors, said in a video call. “It’s a very Western upbringing. That’s how we’ve grown up seeing it in museums, but it’s not like that in real life.”

Bhupen Khakhar's 1965 work

Bhupen Khakhar’s 1965 work, “Devi”, which deconstructs the traditional image of a goddess, is featured in a MAP exhibition that outlines the representation of women in Indian art. Credit: Museum of Art & Photography, Bangalore

Making the collection available is part of Poddar’s goal of fostering a “museum culture” in India – and spurning notions that art galleries are elitist institutions. Much of MAP is free to the public, and fees are waived for ticketed performances one evening per week. The museum said it welcomed over 1,000 people each day of its opening weekend.

MAP is specifically targeting young people in a country where over a quarter of the population is aged 14 or under. Open access digital offerings (which became a focal point after Covid-related delays delayed the museum’s opening for more than two years) include video workshops, webinars and online encyclopedias of South Asian art with over 2,000 entries supervised by expert scholars.

“India has some of the most amazing art, in terms of what was done in the past and what is being done today,” said Poddar, who founded MAP with 7,000 works from his private collection and donated “a few thousand ” more ago. . “Why don’t we go to Indian museums, but every time we travel abroad, one of the first things we do is go to a museum over there?”

Combating biases

MAP’s opening program also shows its concern with unexpected narratives. Take his top-billing exhibition, “Visible/Invisible,” which explores the representation of women throughout Indian art history.

Over the centuries, females have been portrayed as goddesses and mothers, as nurturers and commodities. But, apart from rare exceptions such as the painter Amrita Sher Gil, until recently they were viewed exclusively through the eyes of men, explained the curator of the show and the director of MAP, Kamini Sawhney.

Textile label from the Shaw Wallace trading company, depicting a woman as

Examples of everyday design in the show include a textile label from the Shaw Wallace trading company, which depicts a woman as the “Goddess of India.” Credit: Museum of Art & Photography, Bangalore

“Indian women are deified as goddesses and, at the other end of the spectrum, they are seen as objects of desire,” she said in a video call shortly after the show opened. “So where is the space in between for women to be just dead people with all the ambitions, desires and weaknesses that we have?”

“Visible/Invisible” aims in part to present and deconstruct this male gaze. The 130 works on display range from what Sawhney calls the “big-breasted, tiny-waisted, wide-hipped goddesses” depicted in 10th-century sculptures to a poster for the 1957 Bollywood epic “Mother India,” which imagines its heroine as a plough. -a nationalist symbol of post-colonial India.

As the 20th century progressed, women began to “get on board,” Sawhney added. As such, later works include the female artists who reflected the changing rise of women and the wider feminist art movement. In the 1991 painting by Nalini Malani mythical women are imagined as figures of sustenance and violence; Nilima Sheikh’s “Mother and Child 2” depicts a maternal bond that millennia of male artists could only guess at.

The exhibition includes six original works commissioned to help fill gaps in the canon, including a quilt by non-binary artist Renuka Rajiv and a video work by Payana LGBTQ created in collaboration with transgender people aged 50 and over.

Still from the 1950 film

Still from the 1950 film “Dahej,” which the MAP exhibition catalog describes as “a powerful critique of the practice of dowry in India.” Credit: Museum of Art & Photography, Bangalore

At a time when museums are expected to be more than just art vessels, Sawhney’s conservative approach seeks to combat biases. Future exhibitions, she said, will draw on the craft traditions of marginalized communities and indigenous art that, traditionally, “isn’t seen as worthy of going into a museum.”

The museum is “not just things on walls,” said Sawhney, adding: “What story are we always telling? voices. Therefore, we see MAP as a space not only for dominant voices, but for the voice of everyone in the Public.”

Rules of philanthropy

With a 44,000 square foot building designed by local architectural firm Mathew & Ghosh, MAP houses four galleries, an auditorium, a conservation center and a research library. It also enjoys a central location in what is essentially a museum area of ​​Bengaluru, a city often called “India’s Silicon Valley.”

Early proposals were opposed by some local artists, who expressed concern about — among other things, the prominence of business figures on the MAP board. But the museum, like much of India’s art sector, depends on private funding. The total annual budget of India’s Ministry of Culture for the coming year, at 30.1 billion rupees ($362 million), is only 46% larger than the operating budget of the largest art museum in the US, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The museum opened with four exhibitions drawn largely from its 60,000-item collection.

The museum opened with four exhibitions drawn largely from its 60,000-item collection. Credit: Krishna Tangirala/Museum of Art & Photography, Bangalore

Beyond Poddar’s personal contributions, and in lieu of acquisition budgets, the rest of MAP’s collection consists of gifts from philanthropists and other donors. The founder estimates that ticket sales will cover “almost 10%” of the museum’s costs, with sponsorships and donations making up a large portion of the shortfall.

But while Poddar recognizes that arts and culture barely register in what he calls “India’s hierarchy of needs”, he sees investment in the sector as essential to preserving the cultural heritage. He compared the loss of India’s artistic tradition to “an extinct animal.”

“I think it’s time we start looking at this much more seriously, as a country and as a community,” he said. “This is not the domain of one person, one group or community – it is for all of us.”

Visible/Invisible: The Representation of Women in Art through the MAP Collection” is on display at the MAP Museum of Art and Photography in Bengaluru until December 1, 2025.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *