Reviving The National
Museum Of Pakistan
(by VEERA RUSTOMJI)
In order to understand the dynamics of a historic culture, anthropologists have to continuously invest in the study of the artefacts and pictorial depictions which a civilisation has left behind. The visual remains of any past civilisation will inevitably be linked to the art history of the location, as analysis of the visuals 'has come to occupy such a central position in the study of human culture, from a range of perspectives ...' (Van EckCaroline, Winters Edward, Dealing with the Visual: Art History, Aesthetics, and Visual Culture). Our eternal bond with our cultural heritage is something which we should never fail to understand, as developing a wholesome idea of one's country and ancestors is priceless.
However, in our country, especially in Karachi, we seem to have lost the entire concept of cultural heritage. While many artists have continuously linked their work with traditional themes such as the ever present Mughal miniature art or the Thar women, artists and curators have let our genuine heritage slip through the hands of this country. This is particularly tragic as some of the most amazing artefacts of our heritage from Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa, and the Ghandara civilisation are kept within the National Museum of Pakistan in Karachi with a meager fee of ten rupees per visit. The amount of skill the people of the Indus Valley Civilisation had is clearly something we have fortunately inherited; the craftsmanship and attention to detail are features of the ceramic work and relief statues at the museum.
The range of exhibits from the Indus Valley Civilisation range from deities statues, jewellery, household and storage pots, to the first ever board of chess of the global civilisations. The Ghandara civilisations remains include numerous intricately curved relief statues which are absolutely awe inspiring. The museum additionally includes exhibits of importance from the struggling days of partition. These little or large pieces are truly spectacular, yet, the neglect which engulfs the museum is unimaginable. Relics from the Paleolithic era are kept in dusty showrooms and the museum's library struggles to keep its tables and chairs intact, let alone the written resources. The fault, however, does not lie with the administration or curators of the museum. As citizens, we should feel obliged to at least voice our concern if we cannot financially contribute to the upkeep of the museum. How is that possible that some of the most priceless pieces of South Asia are faced with the unimaginable amount of unconcern from the government and the people? One can only imagine the degree to which the National Museum needs donations and concern from the very descendents of the Indus Valley Civilisation.
While the museum needs financial assistance and support, there are a number of reasons as to why we should make an impact on reviving the safe keep of our cultural heritage. Aside from a stark contrast with foreign museums, one has to consider the level of traditional and cultural norms we continuously carry with us. As a nation which has always considered family values and faith close to heart, our art has continuously projected the same themes. Consequently, these values need to be shown respect, and more importantly, appreciation. The number of excavations, scientific examinations and anthropological searches for these pieces are an example of the sheer amount of effort and commitment people have invested in these artefacts; and to compare that with the presentation of these valuables is difficult to write on. Even the tiniest of ceramic pieces, with their delicate inscriptions of fish scales and scripture do have the capacity to transport any viewer to another world. Magnificently large storage pots display the skill and capacity of art the Indus Valley people had and very little of their inventions have been changed to this day.
The Quran and coin collection rooms prove to be in a better state and write ups displayed near the exhibits inform the visitors of accurate details. Not to forget the curators who are very enthusiastic and generous when it comes to helping students with research and informative facts. The ambiance and the building itself has vast potential, the rooms are big enough and spaciously designed to comfortably accomodate a large group of people. Hence the space and the staff are all invaluable resources for the National Museum.
Many artists and ceramics have not even visited the museum, let alone acknowledge its contribution to every aspect of our lives. Items from a museum do not have to conform to traditional miniature paintings or glossy painted vases, the real expressive nature of the items in the National Museum reach beyond any price tag. Furthermore, the number of invaluable books and catalogs the library holds are not just resources for students but for scientists, historians and of course artists. Deriving inspiration from the lost city and the Ghandara monuments will easily come to the least artistically gifted people if only they gave the museum a chance. As far as the issue of the upkeep of the National Museum is concerned, I am not talking about chances, as years have passed by with the building being in solitude. I am however, concerned about a change in the mindset and priorities. There is a need for an awakening for the people and government of Pakistan to understand how important these remains are, in fact they seem to be cherished more by foreign scholars than by our own people.
One cannot just hope for change, especially for the revival of a museum. We have to really involve ourselves with the transformation within our community. Places such as the Kothari Parade have only recently been allocated their deserved praise and revival, as the building of the park and shopping plaza nearby have provoked the concern of the people. Therefore, all the National Museum really needs is the recognition that it truly deserves. From the thumb sized carved figures to the decorated Quran pages, every piece in that museum deserves a fate much better than what it is today.