Family Day at the Ackland Art Museum became a cultural milieu this past Sunday as the museum highlighted “The Sahmat Collective: Art and Activism in India from 1989.”
On Sunday, the museum elected to focus less on the politics behind the collective and more on the work as a celebration of Indian culture, said Jenny Marvel, the Ackland’s manager of school and community programs.
“The Sahmat exhibition itself is definitely a little bit of higher thinking,” she said. “So, one of the things that we have to do as education staff is to find access points for families and/or for young children.”
Marvel and her staff decided to use recreational activities as an access point for children. Sunday’s event included an auto-rickshaw.
“I think the car is (my favorite part),” said Betty Simon-Thomas, docent for Ackland. “Just because people come in and they’re immediately wowed and that kind of sets the scene.”
Indeed the fire-engine red display was one of the most immediate points of interest when entering on Family Day.
Another point of access for kids was the designated reading area, where, at 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., bright-eyed youngsters nestled up on embellished pillows and were transported to India.
There was also a treasure hunt that encouraged kids to embark on a visual quest through the gallery, examining patterns in the artwork. The venture led to a tented exhibit, which featured a multimedia display of Indian music and dance.
This performance space was one of Marvel’s favorites.
“It’s just another avenue of showing their history and what’s really important to them,” Marvel said. “Whether it is through acting or drama, dance or music, and even the combination of all of them, it becomes really, truly interdisciplinary and it allows us, the viewer, to experience (their culture) on a different scale.”
The most popular attraction though was “the creation station.” Amidst globs of Elmer’s glue, dredges of construction paper and mountains of worn magazines, visiting children were able to assume creative autonomy with boxes provided by the museum.
“So, our (connection) with that is, I think it was 1997, where over 200 artists had created a box in relationship to the independence of India,” Marvel said.
“And so, it was the way that the world was seeing India as an independent country and so it was a way for us to see it. So, if it’s a gift for India, how do you do a gift for your own community, or for your family or for yourself?”
For Jalen Wilson, that “gift” included a lot of pictures of tigers.
“She loves animals, and both of my children love to do art,” said mother, Kat Wilson.
The family of four is a regular of the museum. Wilson cited several motivations for attending this past Sunday’s event, including the family’s love of the arts as well as her husband’s spirituality and curiosity about India. Wilson also said the exhibition was curated well.
“They usually have it well set-up when you’re going from spot to spot. I like the movie installation….I like that because then you get to see people in motion and with them dancing or singing, they’re giving them a taste of that [culture]…it’s good to hear it and feel that you can relate to that person.”
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