Sunday, April 14, 2013

Museum of conflicts takes shape in communally-sensitive Ahmedabad to usher in era of interaction

Gool Lodge
By Our Representative
In a move without any precedence in India, Ahmedabad has hosted a Museum of Conflicts, Conflictorium. Opened on April 14, three voluntary organizations, working on human rights issues, Center for Social Justice, Janvikas and Navsarjan, have come together to launch it in Gool Lodge, Mirzapur. Inspired by top Turkish Nobel laureate novelist Orhan Pamuk, who faced persecution at the hands of right-wing nationalists, Conflictorium seeks in some way to follow Museum of Innocence, established by him in Istanbul in 2012, where a collection evocative of everyday life and culture of Istanbul during the period of his novel “Museum of Innocence” (1970s) has been displayed.
Delivering her keynote address at the inaugural function of Conflictorium, Dr Syeda Hameed, member, Planning Commission, said, "Conflictorium for the first time presented the concept of conflict to the society, particularly in Gujarat, that has been witness to repeated conflicts. Probably, the concept is unique in its own way, as it gives hope of peace through conflicts, and also strength to people to apologize for their mistakes."   
Museum of Innocence
The idea of Conflictorium has also been drawn from Nina Simon, director of the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz, California, US, who has evolved the concept of “participatory museum”. It favours using potential for participatory techniques in establishing museums, going beyond what Boston Children’s Museum, called “Exploratorium”, does – interactive engagement as the fundamental vehicle to promote visitor learning, recreation, and exploration. 
Simon’s idea is to make museums into places where people discuss the objects on display with friends and strangers, sharing diverse stories and interpretations, where the final result may not resemble today’s museums, but may look more like a coffee shop or a community arts centre.
Housed in the 90-year-old Parsi building, donated by Bachuben Nagarwala, Gool Lodge used to be her two-storey home and studio. This is where Bachuben practiced as Ahmedabad’s first hair stylist. Named named after Bachuben’s mother Gool, Gool Lodge has been newly restored to set up Confictorium in order to “create a space for dialogue through art between communities” in Ahmedabad. 
Pointing out why the museum has been called Conflictorium, an introduction on it says, “Despite post-independence India’s near-continuous history of conflict, rioting and violence, the general attitude is that of ‘moving on’ and not dwelling on the painful experience of the past.” 
Inside Gool Lodge
Seen in the context of Gujarat, it says that the state “has harnessed a culture of silence over the years and takes pride in this characteristic” and “there is a need to break this illusion and bring to the forefront the legacy of conflict as an objective reality such that an envisioning of a peaceful society can be undertaken.” It adds, “Silence needs to be replaced by conversation and constructive reasoning. To establish connections between unresolved conflict and a damaged societal fabric is necessary. The construction of an open and creative space is needed that enables people to share and own conflict.”
The organizers consider Gool Logde as a space with an opportunity to initiate a dialogue on a day-to-day basis. “It would have intricate and the personal recalls of conflicts that rise from evolving definitions of something as personal and subjective as beauty”, to quote from the introduction. It has a café that is “spread over three areas and has three identities, starting with their names -- the Corridor Cafe, the Third Side Cafe and the Triangle Café.”  
Legacy of Bachuben Nagarwala on display
It adds, “Conflictorium offers a room, spatial as well as mental, that is conducive to talking; to establishing a rhythm of listening and speaking; to movement of one perception towards acceptance of the other.” Says one of its organisers, “We intend, to extend the idea of a ‘keep talking space’ to other physical spaces. We have a designated design team that can convert any space into a keep talking space, be it a backyard in your home, a lounge in your office, or a parking lot of in your society.”
Located opposite RC Technical College, between Sai Temple and Chalte Pir ki Durgah, on way from the Church towards Delhi Darwaza, Mirzapur, Conflictorium has decided to offer museum internship to college students, recent graduates, and graduate students interested in the concept of participatory museum. “Unpaid internships are available in the education, film, and curatorial departments on a full- or part-time basis. Specific duties depend upon the needs of the department”, says the introduction.
There would be a museum store which would offer a wide variety of merchandise unique to Conflictorium. Artist Avni Sethi has put up one of the museum’s permanent exhibits that talks about the legacy of the building and the life of Bachuben Nagarwala, who donated the building. 
In memory of Vali Gujarati
Even before the formal inauguration, Conflictorium held several activities, including an intimate storytelling session with the children in the neighborhood using puppetry as the medium. 
Three talented puppeteers, Nayan Bhil, Mehul Solanki and Maulik Nayak, took up the task of meeting the children, collecting their stories, weaving them together into one comprehensive story, crafting puppets and performing. 
Then, Dhruv Sangari, a musician, paid tribute to Urdu poet Wali Gujarati (1667-1707), a pioneer of Urdu literature and ghazalkar who adopted Gujarat as his home. The event took place on March 1, 2013 as on this date 11 years ago Wali Gujarati’s tomb was razed to ground and tarred overnight during the communal riots of 2002.

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