Pramod Kumar KG, a museum advisory on adapting to the digital realm


The digital realm has re-invigorated art outreach: Pramod Kumar KG of Eka Cultural Resources & Research

Adapting to the challenging times has its share of cons too, adds the managing director of India's only museum consulting company

By Pramod Kumar KG  April 17th, 2020

As a museum advisory, travel is essential to our work at Eka, as most of the collections we work for are spread out across India and the world. Being able to see and handle objects first hand, examine their materiality and seek inferences from what we observe, and study contextually is a major aspect of our research. However, large volumes of data we generate and get from our projects also allow us the relative comfort of being able to mine it remotely, at office, and with other collaborators and partners. Comparing and studying our research material with other resources by way of previously published books and or archival information is another headway that the Internet has allowed. Most important institutions across the world have made their objects and images available to remote scrutiny by digitising them. These include several significant holdings of Indian Art, both historic and contemporary. The sobering reality we need to consider is that this is not a trend that most similar institutions in the subcontinent follow.

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Pramod Kumar KG, managing director of Eka Cultural Resources & Research

A declaration of a pandemic lockdown while seeming an insurmountable challenge has allowed for a quiet efficiency across several aspects of our work. Virtual meetings have facilitated discussions with colleagues across the globe. Planning of several projects has gone on uninterrupted since plans, proposed object locations, storage etc. can still be drawn up. The ability to write text for allied publications and exhibitions has also been largely possible thanks to remote access, albeit an inability to reference books. A major part of archival work for us is the systemising of data. The organising of data, that sometimes doesn’t catch up with the speed of its generation, is now being addressed since team members are unable to physically visit sites and have the time to do tasks that were otherwise not on immediate priority.

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An exhibit curated by Eka Cultural Resources & Research

The beginning of the 21st century marked the advent of a line of work, which allowed professionals across several fields being able to work remotely away from the confines of a traditional office space. Technological advancements by way of portable computer devices, mobile technology and wireless Internet services allowed large sections of senior management to be initiated into this practice. The understanding that work could be seamlessly done while on travel allowed for a maturing of the thought that the same could be done from the remote confines of the home office.

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Satish Gujral: A Brush with Life curated by Eka Cultural Resources & Research

So, does this mean that we can function and carry on with our daily life without disruptions? Not at all, the fundamental idea to interpret an object, its history, identity and story cannot be captured by images or text alone. Physical examination and viewing helps prepare the multitudes of metadata fields that make analysing and research possible. Projects in the latter stage are largely functioning smoothly while those in their preliminary stage have taken a beating. The ability to plan on site in a museum allows for a depth of detail that virtual planning has yet not surmounted in its entirety. Curiously, we have noted that projects where new facilities by way of new premises are being set up are largely unencumbered by a lack of immediate access. Work being planned for and to be installed in existing facilities need greater caution because of a risk in missing out on site specifics that cannot be easily rectified down the road.

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Curated by Eka Cultural Resources & Research

The importance of being able to use the digital realm to share ideas, objects, cultures and communities have re-invigorated outreach. Some of us who began our careers as part of a different generation have had to adapt drastically to the speed of sharing. A quick realisation has occurred that a delay in interpreting content could also mean that others seize the narrative. Public perception of an institution’s collection could thus be shaped by other discourses that don’t always convey or contextualise the holder’s interpretation. In most cases this may just be a matter of a different opinion, however in many instances real mischief and cultural damage could be inflicted by omission or commission.

Covid times have, however, allowed a wider audience to begin accessing online facilities. Webinars, virtual 3D galleries and museum exhibitions have existed previously but were sparsely followed. Social media forums where a great deal of discussions on varied aspects of tangible and intangible heritage of a museum is discussed threadbare populate our online timelines. While this has to be largely welcomed there is an element of caution to be borne in mind. Individuals and communities that don’t have access to these technological advancements are being omitted from these discourses. Most of these forums are either in English or in a few mainstream languages. Many of the objects or cultural practices being discussed in a museum might belong to or have been created by communities who have no voice in these forums. Every kind of intervention today raises the fact that we have to be cognizant of who is being excluded. This sobering reality needs understanding as we confront a digital future. Older prejudices, biases and exclusions find insidious new ways of coming back into play. Those of us in the cultural sphere need to recognise the challenges that these times are producing. Dealing with them is one end of the spectrum, negotiating and carrying everyone forward shall however be a truer measure of success for humanity as it handles a pandemic.

(Photos courtesy Eka Cultural Resources & Research)