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renovating HISTORY

A day in the museum is not something an average Dhakaiite looks forward to; not even on weekends or days of historic or national significance. We have preconceived ideas -- 'mundane', 'overly educational' if not 'dreary.'
That however is about to change. What began in a single room of the Secretariat Building (at present, the Dhaka Medical College and Hospital) has now turned into an institution. Bangladesh National Museum is 100 years old; and that is something to rejoice.
Star Lifestyle caught up with the officials involved in bringing about these new additions to the Museum and also the designer in-charge of giving the new galleries a new contemporary look.
A day at the Museum is not something to frown upon. Let Star LS show you why.

One of the many functions a museum plays is that of preserving and showcasing the history of its country, along with that of the whole world. The Bangladesh National Museum is surely doing a fine job at that. But the history of the museum itself is an old one. And, like the numerous objects, artefacts, photographs et al, the museum's history itself is fascinating, inspiring and exciting.

After one and a half years of remodelling the National Museum opened its doors to the galleries 37-40 on 20 January, 2013. With a brand new look and décor, this initiative to renovate the galleries was undertaken by the Government of Bangladesh.

Collective efforts of the Minister of Information and Cultural Affairs, Abul Kalam Azad, Prokash Chandra Das, the Director General of the National Museum, and a team of executives at the National Museum along with interior designer Nazneen Haque Mimi saw a transformation of the new galleries. Firoz Mahmud, who has been a researcher for the National Museum of History for many years, and Provost of Sergeant Jahrul Haque Hall, Professor Abu Md. Delowar Hossain carefully selected the artefacts that are on display and penned their historic background.

There are 4 new galleries -- Gallery 37 starts from 1757 and goes till the end of the British era in 1947. Gallery 38 takes it from there and continues till Victory Day -- 16 December, 1971 -- covering the Language Movement and the Liberation War. Gallery 39 focuses on the genocide committed during 1971. Gallery 40 shows the events that took place in post-liberation Bangladesh, till 1975.

When it was British India
This 1348 square feet room, Gallery 37, depicts the period starting from 1757 with the fall of Nawab Shiraj-ud-Dawlah at the battle of Palashi. It goes on to display specific historic events following the battle and houses information on eminent individuals in that era such as Surja Sen, Pritilata, Kalpana Dutta, their pictures, and selective belongings of some of them. A handwritten letter of Tagore for example, is a mesmerising thing to look at. The colour of the paper being brown, perhaps for its age, and the letter written in English in the distinctive handwriting of Rabindranath makes you curious, as these were the words written by one of the greatest writers the world has ever seen. The gallery also boasts pictures and trivia on the movements that led to the partition of India and Pakistan.

The interiors of this room have been done around a grey colour theme making maximum use of the wall space, using bigger pictures and bigger fonts, which has been possible due to the generous heights of the rooms.

One of the main changes in the interiors has been in the use of LED lights in the lighting scheme. The ceiling in this room has been covered with a false ceiling mimicking the pattern of a chess board.

All interior redesigning has been done keeping the original architecture of the building intact. Parts of the 37-year old building such as the doors to the gallery and the window grills have been left untouched, but refreshed with new frosted glass so as to give it a new feel yet not stray away too much from the roots.

The middle of the room has a pyramid display, which shows the historic Lahore Resolution of the 1940s among others on either side of the pyramid, and a huge vat used for boiling indigo back in the era of the British Rule.

The era of the Language Movement till Independence
Gallery 38 is the biggest gallery in the entire museum and is interesting in terms of the architecture. This gallery sprawls over 9650 square feet of floor space in the main floor, with double height and housing a mezzanine floor.

This room is themed around a clay colour tone. By removing the display board that used to previously cut the room in half the volume of the room has been amplified and made better use of by placing display panels aligned with the pillars on the mezzanine floor.

Each of these sections displays separate time frames and events starting from the Language Movement displayed in one section followed by the 1953-1960 era of Anti-Ayub movement, the Agartala conspiracy case, the 6-point movement, etc.

Bangabandhu is omnipresent in this gallery. A wall, from the high ceiling to the floor, is covered with a huge photograph of the charismatic leader addressing his people on his famous 7th March speech. The facial expression, the composure of a rebellious leader in front of a sea of people and most especially the grandiosity of an enormous picture, makes him larger-than-life, which he was.

The sections also display sculptures of eminent individuals and a few of their items such as the fez of Sher-e-Bangla A. K. Fazlul Haque, the panjabi and cap worn by Maulana Bhashani and the harmonium of Altaf Mahmud.

The most special aspect of this room is the fact that a new light and sound display have been added to this gallery, which is handled by Nasirul Haque Khokon. Four immense, two-storey high automatically controlled fabric screens have been placed in the gallery on which a documentary of the independence of the country is projected four times a day.

Remembering the barbaric genocide
The next gallery depicts the genocide during the war. A handwritten note of Pakistani Major-General Rao Farman Ali, the mastermind behind the killings of the intellectuals, hangs on the wall.

Gallery-39 dwells on the heartless killings from the Language Movement and up to the War of Independence. This 1,750 square feet room again is based on grey tones enhancing the sombre displays .

Hung across one wall is a huge collage of four pictures of the Language Movement on top of which hangs a full length barbed-wire as a symbol of pain. Other walls display heart-wrenching pictures of the genocide.

One corner that is specially highlighted is the one that displays the skulls of a number of anonymous individuals that had been salvaged from mass graves, thus paying them tribute. Flanked behind this display is a wall-wide painting, by artist Hamiduzzaman, depicting dead bodies being washed to the riverside already lined with the skeletons of many unknown. Another remarkable thing in the room is a broken pillar of the first Shaheed Minar that had been built in 1952 and consecutively demolished during 1971.

Winning the war and the demise of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
Gallery 40, the last of the newly reconstructed galleries, shows Bangladesh's situation post Liberation War: from 17 December, 1971 till 1975, covering the developments that took place, and the assassination of the founder of Bangladesh. This gallery has yet another addition to the museum, perhaps the most attractive and innovative of all the additions: a light, sound and multimedia show. At the scheduled time, lights at the gallery go out whilst enormous screens descend from the ceiling to the floor. The light, sound and multimedia show, made by an organisation called Creations Unlimited, uses an enhanced surround sound system and several other effects to produce a dramatic and adrenaline-pumping effect. The show comprises of a documentary, which has been fragmented into 4 chapters: Language Movement, 7th March speech of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Liberation War and Post Liberation War.

Windows in this 3,700 square foot room have been closed off in order to create greater space and to display the post war events till 1975. The height of the room has been fully utilised again, lit by LED lights. The walls of this clay-toned room display huge pictures of the Father of the Nation meeting with the heads of states of various countries and blown-up newspaper articles. The pillars in the room are covered with lists of countries that chronologically recognised Bangladesh as a sovereign state and lists of the names of war heroes -- Bir Shreshto, Bir Uttam, Bir Bikram and Bir Protik.

Thus, ends the four galleries housing 218 years of history of the country that is our Motherland, modernised and transformed in a way that will appeal to the coming generations with touches of technological elements that they will be more at ease with, in order to ensure that we do not lose touch with our roots, know them, remember them and take pride in them.

In the last 100 years, our museum has come a long way. How will it look like in another 100 years? We probably won't live long enough to see that! Here's to another 100 years!

By Zane and Karishma Ameen
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed

Special thanks to Prokash Chandra Das, Director General, Bangladesh National Museum, Jahangir Hussain, Keeper, Department of Contemporary Art & World Civilization, Bangladesh National Museum, Ahsan Reza Khan, Sound Designer and CTO, Creations Unlimited and Nazneen Haque Mimi, Interior Designer.


100 years and beyond

It all began in 1905, when Lord Curzon partitioned Bengal. The result was the creation of the new Province of Eastern Bengal and Assam, with Dacca as the capital. The need for a museum, since it would be a platform of culture and heritage, was felt rather strongly. In 1910, orders were passed to look for a place for establishing a museum in Dacca.

A demand was later addressed to Lord Thomas Baron Carmichael, Governor of the Presidency of Bengal and on 7 August, 1913, a century ago, Dacca Museum was born. In was, however, not until 1914, with a total on 379 objects that Dacca Museum opened doors to the public.

And after that, a lot of changes had taken place. Many seasons came and went by. Many wars were fought. Empires broke down. The evolution of the 'State' continued until, finally, a new and independent nation came into existence.

The founder of this nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was very eager about the museum. He wanted people to know about “the true history of the struggle of the Bengalis”. The beloved leader could not live to see the inauguration of Bangladesh National Museum, in its current location, which took place on 17 November, 1983.

Today, the museum has 4 branches: Ahsan Manzil, Osmany Museum, Zia Memorial Museum and Shipacharya Zainul Abedin Sangrahashala.

By M H Haider


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