A bucket of luminous rock salt invites you to insert your hands in it, and when you do, old film footage of Mahatma Gandhi’s famous Dandi march flashes on. Pick up an “e-Pilgrim” and walk along with him in a protest march.
The Eternal Gandhi exhibition, which opened in March 2005 at Birla House in New Delhi (the exhibition is a permanent feature), the site where Gandhi spent the last few months of his life and where he was assassinated in 1948, is a feat in multimedia virtuosity. The interactive installations, sculptures and multimedia artworks in the museum—also part of a travelling exhibition that first opened in Mumbai’s National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in February 2006—were conceived and visualized by Ranjit Makkuni, a New Delhi-based multimedia researcher, for the Aditya Birla Group.
Makkuni has now authored a book on the philosophical and technical aspects of his designs for the museum, Eternal Gandhi: Design of the Multimedia Museum, which will be out in bookshops by the second week of July. The coffee-table book of 242 pages is a poor substitute for the real tour of the museum, but it is a worthwhile acquisition for serious design aficionados and lovers of history.
To begin with, the introductory essay by Makkuni outlines the ideas behind the works— how Gandhi’s philosophy of Satyagraha is echoed in the interactive works; how the materials used reflect his insistence on using handmade objects in everyday life; and how modern models of product design by artists from Europe and India have been adapted to traditional philosophy. “The spinning of cotton through a wheel may be outdated and the spinning wheel an outdated symbol. The exhibits in Eternal Gandhi explore the transformation of a fossilized symbol into new designs and newer products but which embody Gandhian values,” the author says in the book.
Makkuni’s writing has an academic rigour that could, in parts, bog the reader down. He also tries to make much of the precedents of his experiment and in doing so, deifies Gandhi to an extreme degree. He says that just as Jesus Christ and Buddha were adorned and interpreted in paintings, there is a need to portray Gandhi in new media.
The real appeal of the book, as of the museum, is in its visual and technical finesse. Each visual in the book is explained in elaborate captions and footnotes.
The 14 chapters in the book summarize the many aspects of Gandhian philosophy, with accompanying visuals of the installations. The design elements are explained in separate footnotes.
Eternal Gandhi: Design of the Multimedia Museum shows how it is possible to bridge the gap between the two extreme ways in which Gandhi has been interpreted across the world in recent times—as a subject of academic treatise, and as a cool figure in pop culture objects and media. This book is a smart addition to your coffee table.
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