You feel a bit like Gulliver in Lilliput as soon as you enter the temporary exhibition gallery at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, or CSMVS. It seems as if the artefacts were sprinkled with fairy dust and reduced to dainty, miniature proportions overnight. On view is a dollhouse with a scaled down version of Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night, and thumb-sized beds, almirahs, a lamp and a clock. One also encounters three miniature model trains chugging through a panoramic landscape, complete with mini versions of rail tracks, signals and people.

These two exhibits act as portals to the five-section exhibition Small Matters: An Exploration Of Miniaturization, on display at a new gallery supported by the Hemendra Kothari Foundation.

“When we hosted the show India And The World in 2017, we thought of pitching the CSMVS as a museum of ideas in the future, and that has translated into our current programming," says Joyoti Roy, who has co-curated the show. Recently, the museum also decided to showcase a selection from its reserve collection. “This show marries the two thoughts—it is based on an idea and uses the collection from the museum to illustrate that. It tries to interpret the contemporary world for the public through objects of the past," says Roy. The team has pulled out many pieces that have never been seen before, spanning subjects as diverse as archaeology and science to publishing and pop culture.

‘The Fortune Teller’, in ivory and wood, from 19th century Italy.
‘The Fortune Teller’, in ivory and wood, from 19th century Italy. (Photo Courtesy: CSMVS)

The museum has received a generous donation of objects from collectors such as Sanat Senjeet, which are part of the show. University of Mumbai professor Anita Rane Kothare has also contributed to the exhibition. The latter has given several artefacts to be fitted within the dollhouse.

“The dollhouse was first invented in medieval Europe as a tool for young girls to run a household. Eventually, with the industrial revolution, it became popular as a curio object," says Roy. The miniature trains belong to the co-curator, Prateek Aroskar, who has also designed the exhibition with Siddharth Waingaonkar.

There are examples of miniaturization from Myanmar, Japan, Italy and Germany, drawn from the museum’s collection. One of the five sections is titled “alternate universe". “During research, we found that one of the reasons for the popularity of miniatures is because the human mind loves things in totality," explains Roy. One can also see objects with a regional flavour—like a qila, a simulation of a mud fort by Maratha ruler Shivaji that is created in Maharashtra during Diwali.

There are examples of mobile shrines as well—Tibetan Buddhist shrines, Bal Gopala, and a Quran in the form of a taveez—and a picture of an object called Aurangzeb’s Court, which has over 200 minute figures of people making offerings to the emperor.

But the pièce de résistance is a pop-up book on Harry Potter. “It has been created by this engineering genius called Matthew Reinhart and opens up to 20-25 detailed pop-ups," Roy says.

Small Matters: An Exploration Of Miniaturization will be on view till 31 October at CSMVS, Mumbai.

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