Mummy’s secrets revealed
How the British Museum’s pride and joy was brought for a four-month long Mumbai darshan
January 05, 2013 at 02:44:29 AM
Days after it was thrown open to the public, the exhibition featuring five Egyptian mummies and a host of other historical artefacts brought down from the British Museum has been generating quite a buzz, drawing over 6,000 visitors a day. Which is nice, considering the effort that went into carting 110 objects — some over 4,000 years old –from Great Russell Street in London to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) in Fort.
Not to mention that it took Rs 3 crore to put the exhibition together. The four-month-long show, titled Mummy: The Inside Story, went on display on November 21. The first discussion, between Sabyasachi Mukherjee, the director general of CSMVS, and Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, happened over a year ago. While they agreed in principle to bring the exhibition, which was travelling around the world, to Mumbai in November, 2011, British Museum had a long list of specifications that were non-negotiable. Based on these, legal contracts – from insurance documents to merchandise agreements (on how the works would be placed, how the exhibition would be priced, and how it would be branded) – were written out.
Once that was in place, in March this year, a team of conservators (Nidhi Shah, Vaidehi Sanval and Omkar Kadu) led by art conservation consultant Anupam Sah started the groundwork. All the material that was to be used to house these 110 objects had to be art-conservation friendly, a set of specifications that ensures there’s almost no chance of damage to the priceless relics (this isn’t a standard usually followed at the CSMVS). This entailed monitoring the thickness of the glass and every little screw, to the quality of lights (UV free) above the exhibits. Additionally, special emphasis was laid on the paints that were to be used. “The paints were put through an ‘oddy test’ (a procedure created by the British Museum in order to test materials for safety in and around art objects),” Sah said.
“They wanted to ensure that the adhesives that we were using were not releasing harmful vapours that could corrode the objects.” Special attention was paid to the climate control of the exhibition space (under 45 per cent relative humidity, and temperatures of not more than 20-23 degrees centigrade). For the 3-D film, which unravels the mystery of mummification, the museum had to acquire a special silver screen. The set up uses three different projectors. After this, Bilwa Kulkarni set up a special education and public programme, Exploring Egypt, as an extension of the exhibition. “Education is the fundamental process that is behind the existence of the museum,” Kulkarni said. “We came up with as many activities as we could think of, and sent a proposal to British Museum. Gradually the entire project developed for families, children tourists, adults and groups with special needs.” Workshops and activities involving Egyptian Hieroglyphs, how they worshipped the Gods, and their afterlife and burial practices, were put together.
However, the biggest effort involved transporting the exhibition. As assistant keeper at the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan in the British Museum, Marcel Maree, said, “Each object was photographed before it went on the journey, and systematically photographed when they reached Mumbai to check their condition. It’s the curator’s responsibility that exhibits must not get damaged when he’s lending them to another museum.” An entire team worked to transport the objects safely to the museum over three consecutive nights. The objects were placed inside insulated cases, and flown to Mumbai – unmarked and on two different flights for security reasons.
The works arrived in the city in the first week of November, and were taken straight to the climate-controlled exhibition area, where they were stabilised. Then, the condition of each piece was checked. “We had to agree with what condition the pieces came to us, and the process will be repeated four months later when the exhibition closes. Even a millimetre scratch mark is put on record, and an enquiry report will need to be written,” Sah said. It was only after this that the artefacts were finally placed inside their showcases (in between all this, there was a visit from the customs department, which sent officials to ensure everything tallied with the lists they had been given). The curator of the show, John Taylor, said, “Visitors will get a unique experience and understanding of Ancient Egyptian culture through this show. It is truly exciting to be bringing this to an Indian audience.” It certainly has been worth the effort.
- Babylonian relic to visit US with historic message of tolerance (guardian.co.uk)
- Egyptian mummy expo opens in Mumbai today (vancouverdesi.com)
- Showcase: Mummy mia (thehindu.com)
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