“Cultural institutions around the world are using technology developed by India or by Indians. We have the tools and the scientific knowledge, but we’re struggling to apply them to questions about our past,” says museologist Vinod Daniel, 60, member of the Board of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) and chair of AusHeritage, a network of cultural heritage management organisations established by the Australian government. It is not enough for technology to march forward. “We need more people trained specifically to use technology to advance conservation goals.” Excerpts from an interview.
What role should technology be playing in how we protect and represent our past?
Preventive conservation of cultural heritage is an urgent need. All leading museums in the world use natural daylight, which is ideal for artwork display, but they use sophisticated lighting systems to control how much of this natural light filters in so that it doesn’t damage the artefacts. It is also important for conservators to rely on the right technology to study these objects, understand their compositions and look for hidden clues to be able to preserve its original state. Technology also makes interacting with the past very exciting. The highlight of the recently opened EK Nayanar museum in Kannur is a hologram of the former chief minister of Kerala [which Daniel helped set up]. Visitors can ask him ten questions and the hologram will respond with his trademark accent. There are so many ways of using this technology to preserve human history.
Where does India stand in this respect?
Cultural institutions around the world are using technology developed by India or by Indians. We have the tools and the scientific knowledge, but we’re struggling to apply them to questions about our past. We need more people trained specifically to use technology to advance conservation goals. Places such as Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), Delhi’s National Museum Institute, Bengaluru’s Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) are making an attempt to bridge this gap by investing in high-end technology to level up their conservation efforts. We need this model to be replicated throughout the country.
What’s the first thing we need, in order to drive a change in museum practices in India?
What is really lacking is skilled human intervention. We need people who are trained in specific skills that sit at the intersections of conservation and documentation, interpretation, exhibition and audience engagement. We might have about 400 skilled conservators of this kind in the country now, but what we need is ten times the number.
Enjoy unlimited digital access with HT Premium
Subscribe Now to continue reading