Photo feature

In Delhi, an art exhibition invites the viewer to reimagine architecture and archaeology

'The Museum Within' reflects artist Debasish Mukherjee's personal observations from historical sites.

During his years of studying fine arts at Banaras Hindu University in the 1990s, Debasish Mukherjee would make frequent visits to Sarnath, a Buddhist site 12 kilometres from Varanasi.

Sarnath is home to ancient Buddhist monasteries and its most popular feature is the 128 feet-high Dhamek Stupa. However, the efforts to preserve this heritage site have been limited.

“I saw it deteriorate in front of my eyes,” said Mukherjee. “Why is it that there is such little appreciation or respect for heritage in India? Some monuments attract the attention of the authorities, but most of the sites are kept in a sad condition – they are dilapidated, have fallen prey to vandalism or just been whitewashed in the name of conservation.”

His first solo art show, The Museum Within, is a reflection of Mukherjee’s inner sense of preservation. It is his attempt to re-imagine the roles of archaeologist, museum curator, conservator and fashion designer.

By Debasish Mukherjee.
By Debasish Mukherjee.

"My work replicates the manner in which a historic site is discovered and preserved as a museum artefact," said Mukherjee.

Curator Kanika Anand describes Mukherjee's work as similar to that of an archaeologist's in her curatorial note. As she writes, the archaeologist draws a site grid before excavation, creating a precise map of features and artefacts. A rectangular grid is then superimposed over the site, marking out a fixed points, she says. Mukherjee’s work follows a similar grid-like plan – with "repetitive units recording a series of related finds".

For instance, in the "white cube series", objects appear as excavated artefacts, cocooned within muddy surfaces. This is Mukherjee's attempt to represent a transitory stage between the artefact’s unearthing to its eventual placement for public viewing, Anand writes.

By Debasish Mukherjee.
By Debasish Mukherjee.

However, there is a point where Mukherjee's art digresses from the work of an archaeologist. As Anand notes, unlike an archaeologist who excavates a physical space looking for clues to understand the past, Mukherjee's work encourages social awakening about heritage. In the end, the artist wants communities to take pride in their old architecture.

By Debasish Mukherjee.
By Debasish Mukherjee.

He reproduces his observations through three-dimensional geometrical forms, like that of a baoli (step-well) or Varanasi, made from wood, paper and rice paper.

By Debasish Mukherjee.
By Debasish Mukherjee.

One of the works, titled Benares, is based on the artist’s own experience of the ancient city. "The city of Benares is extremely special to me," said Mukherjee. His mother was born there, and Mukherjee associates it with the colour vermilion – "warm and generous".

"It is a city where someone seems to have pushed the pause button," he said. "In all my years, it has looked the same."

The narrow lanes of the city along Ganga is recreated in Mukherjee’s sculpture. Twenty sculpted tablets are mounted in two rows to represent its architecture – staircases, by-lanes, temple entrances, or a lingam, the interiors of a home, the ghat.

Benares, by Debasish Mukherjee.
Benares, by Debasish Mukherjee.

An interesting aspect of Mukherjee's work is the fact that most pieces have been created from an aerial perspective. The artist credits this to an old habit: "Whenever I had to draw something, even flowers, I would draw it from top angle."

By Debasish Mukherjee.
By Debasish Mukherjee.

This means that one looks at Mukherjee's mix-media productions, always, with a bird's eye view. As Anand says, the aerial representation expresses a geographical mapping along with some insight on the people who inhabit these spaces.

By Debasish Mukherjee.
By Debasish Mukherjee.
By Debasish Mukherjee.
By Debasish Mukherjee.

The Museum Within is on display at Akar Prakar Art Advisory, New Delhi, till November 5.

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Some of the worst decisions made in history

From the boardroom to the battlefield, bad decisions have been a recipe for disaster

On New Year’s Day, 1962, Dick Rowe, the official talent scout for Decca Records, went to office, little realising that this was to become one of the most notorious days in music history. He and producer Mike Smith had to audition bands and decide if any were good enough to be signed on to the record label. At 11:00 am, either Rowe or Smith, history is not sure who, listened a group of 4 boys who had driven for over 10 hours through a snowstorm from Liverpool, play 15 songs. After a long day spent listening to other bands, the Rowe-Smith duo signed on a local group that would be more cost effective. The band they rejected went on to become one of the greatest acts in musical history – The Beatles. However, in 1962, they were allegedly dismissed with the statement “Guitar groups are on the way out”.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Decca’s decision is a classic example of deciding based on biases and poor information. History is full of examples of poor decisions that have had far reaching and often disastrous consequences.

In the world of business, where decisions are usually made after much analysis, bad decisions have wiped out successful giants. Take the example of Kodak – a company that made a devastating wrong decision despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Everyone knows that Kodak couldn’t survive as digital photography replaced film. What is so ironic that Alanis Morissette could have sung about it, is that the digital camera was first invented by an engineer at Kodak as early as 1975. In 1981, an extensive study commissioned by Kodak showed that digital was likely to replace Kodak’s film camera business in about 10 years. Astonishingly, Kodak did not use this time to capitalise on their invention of digital cameras – rather they focused on making their film cameras even better. In 1996, they released a combined camera – the Advantix, which let users preview their shots digitally to decide which ones to print. Quite understandably, no one wanted to spend on printing when they could view, store and share photos digitally. The Advantix failed, but the company’s unwillingness to shift focus to digital technology continued. Kodak went from a 90% market share in US camera sales in 1976 to less than 10% in 2012, when it filed for bankruptcy. It sold off many of its biggest businesses and patents and is now a shell of its former self.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Few military blunders are as monumental as Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia. The military genius had conquered most of modern day Europe. However, Britain remained out of his grasp and so, he imposed a trade blockade against the island nation. But the Russia’s Czar Alexander I refused to comply due to its effect on Russian trade. To teach the Russians a lesson, Napolean assembled his Grand Armée – one of the largest forces to ever march on war. Estimates put it between 450,000 to 680,000 soldiers. Napoleon had been so successful because his army could live off the land i.e. forage and scavenge extensively to survive. This was successful in agriculture-rich and densely populated central Europe. The vast, barren lands of Russia were a different story altogether. The Russian army kept retreating further and further inland burning crops, cities and other resources in their wake to keep these from falling into French hands. A game of cat and mouse ensued with the French losing soldiers to disease, starvation and exhaustion. The first standoff between armies was the bloody Battle of Borodino which resulted in almost 70,000 casualties. Seven days later Napoleon marched into a Moscow that was a mere shell, burned and stripped of any supplies. No Russian delegation came to formally surrender. Faced with no provisions, diminished troops and a Russian force that refused to play by the rules, Napolean began the long retreat, back to France. His miseries hadn’t ended - his troops were attacked by fresh Russian forces and had to deal with the onset of an early winter. According to some, only 22,000 French troops made it back to France after the disastrous campaign.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to sports, few long time Indian cricket fans can remember the AustralAsia Cup final of 1986 without wincing. The stakes were extremely high – Pakistan had never won a major cricket tournament, the atmosphere at the Sharjah stadium was electric, the India-Pakistan rivalry at its height. Pakistan had one wicket in hand, with four runs required off one ball. And then the unthinkable happened – Chetan Sharma decided to bowl a Yorker. This is an extremely difficult ball to bowl, many of the best bowlers shy away from it especially in high pressure situations. A badly timed Yorker can morph into a full toss ball that can be easily played by the batsman. For Sharma who was then just 18 years old, this was an ambitious plan that went wrong. The ball emerged as a low full toss which Miandad smashed for a six, taking Pakistan to victory. Almost 30 years later, this ball is still the first thing Chetan Sharma is asked about when anyone meets him.

So, what leads to bad decisions? While these examples show the role of personal biases, inertia, imperfect information and overconfidence, bad advice can also lead to bad decisions. One of the worst things you can do when making an important decision is to make it on instinct or merely on someone’s suggestion, without arming yourself with the right information. That’s why Aegon Life puts the power in your hands, so you have all you need when choosing something as important as life insurance. The Aegon Life portal has enough information to help someone unfamiliar with insurance become an expert. So empower yourself with information today and avoid decisions based on bad advice. For more information on the iDecide campaign, see here.

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