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At last, a quality shop for the National Museum

Jiby Kattakayam

The shop, chock-full of beautifully designed things, opens tomorrow

NEW DELHI: Leading museums like the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or the Louvre in Paris have one thing in common apart from the quality of their exhibits: a large, well-stocked shop selling books, artefacts and gifts, usually in designs linked to their collections. On September 28, the National Museum in the Capital will take a big step in that direction with the opening of a new shop of its own. And unlike the ‘out of stock' sign that has greeted visitors who have tried to buy the reproductions advertised at the sales counter on the ground floor for years now, the new shop on the first floor is chock-full of beautifully designed things.

The tastefully designed shop is also unique: it is the fruit of a partnership between civil society and the Government-run Handicrafts and Handloom Export Corporation (HHEC), besides the National Museum administration.

A walk through the small but attractive shop gives visitors a quick introduction to some of the best traditions of Indian art. Its attractions are many – be it paperweights resembling a Harappan seal or a Gupta-era coin, jewellery inspired by Indian art across centuries, bronze sculptures reprising the Chola era or t-shirts with miniatures of Mughal paintings.

Souvenirs

Other items on sale at the shop include articles of daily use like handbags, notebooks, diaries, mugs -- all embellished with Indian art and craft motifs. The shop also sells art books and miniatures of Mughal paintings depicted on a wide array of items like plates, cups and trays, besides t-shirts. Another exquisite souvenir from the Mughal era on sale at the shop -- replicas of pietra dura works in white marble; made famous by the Taj Mahal.

The shop also succeeds at another level because of the high quality of workmanship that has helped reproduce the ancient art forms on various media. The plates and bowls made with papier mache by Kashmiri artisans and the Bidri-ware from Bidar's artisans comprising flower vases, daggers and inkstands bear testimony to this craftsmanship.

While most of the items are priced affordably, the most expensive items in the shop are the reproductions of the Chola-era sculptures in bronze, exquisitely crafted by a stapathi from Chennai.

The revamped museum shop has been conceptualised by four women from civil society -- Malvika Singh, Mohini Menon, Lalita Phadkar and Neha Prasada -- who pitched the idea to HHEC and secured a corpus of Rs 5 lakh to make the idea of providing affordable, top quality merchandise to museum visitors a reality. The four worked closely with designers like Vivek Sahni, Neela Mehta, Shameem and Mitch Crites to create unique products for the shop. Architect Adil Ahmed designed the shop. A 30-foot long painting of the Delhi cityscape by artist Premola Ghose also adorns the shop's walls. All of them have worked free to set up the shop.

The shop is opening in time for the Commonwealth Games and hopes to attract visitors keen on buying Indian curios. Malvika Singh, one of the four, says she hopes the Museum Shop will soon become a prime destination for tourists looking to buy high-quality Indian souvenirs. Neha Prasada says the four women will not be involved in the day to day running of the HHEC shop, but will be part of an Advisory Committee formed to keep tabs on its progress.

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