Lucy Moore, Projects Curator at Leeds Museums & Galleries travelled to Kolkata, Chandannagar, Bengularu, Chandigarh and New Delhi in India on a WIRP Travel Grant in February 2017. This is the report from her visit.
Leeds Museums & Galleries seeks to develop a partnership with the Institut de Chandernagore to research the items in collections relating to Private Jogendra Nath Sen. Private Sen was born in India and emigrated to Leeds in 1910. He studied at the University of Leeds and volunteered to fight with the Leeds Pals in the First World War. The original aim of the visit was to develop links between our institutions.
The visit was my first trip to India and although I found it difficult to make initial contact with the institution, the encouragement I received from the WIRP to throw my net much wider really made the trip very successful. The most challenging part of the trip was sexual harassment in India. I was unprepared for the persistence of some men, even in situations that I had calculated to be “safe”.
Aside from this, the trip had major results for our museum service.
We made contact with the descendants of Jogendra Nath Sen, who donated objects to our collection and discovered new research undertaken in Bengal into his life. I made contact with a wide variety of cultural organisations, including India Remembers (the national commemorative agency in India) and have begun to develop new partnerships, which I hope will bring concrete results. The first one, which we are very excited about, is working with an organisation called Happy Hands which works with traditional artists across India. We hope to work with one of their artists to produce a new animated life of Jogendra Nath Sen. This was an amazing opportunity for an early career curator like me and has really given me an appetite to work more internationally in future.
Another opportunity given by the travel grant was to collect some items in the field for Leeds Museums & Galleries. Prior to the trip I sat down with our World Cultures Curator, Antonia Lovelace, and discussed what might be good additions to the collection from areas I would be visiting. Our initial list included a kite, Valentines cards, wedding magazines and locally produced Bengali crafts. As with all good plans, they change! Kites were out of season and it was difficult to find Valentines greetings cards. However I did return with a lovely Bengali painting of Saruswati, a child’s t-shirt with Durga on and some high-end wedding magazines. The painting will go immediately on display in our Voices of Asia Gallery at Leeds City Museum.
After the trip I really felt that India is a place where you really have to be there in person to develop connections. Not everyone uses email and there is a much greater trust in personal introductions and recommendations than in the UK.
Picking up the phone is important. Once in India, do buy an Indian sim card for an unlocked phone – it makes life so much easier and is probably my top tip. Try and leave some space in your programme for these personal introductions (and also potentially to get sick). For example, in Kolkata I saw an advert for a public lecture in the paper, so went along, which led me ultimately to the Centre for Public History in Bengaluru to meet again with Dr Indira Chowdhury. She in turn introduced me to someone who grew up in French colonial Chandannagar and who has been very useful. This set of interactions could not be predicted beforehand.
We are looking for funding to support further work between Leeds and India and are currently setting short, middle and long term goals. A major partner in the research into Jogendra Nath Sen has been Legacies of War at the University of Leeds, so we are working together to see how we can best explore Sen’s life both in the UK and in India, and capitalise on momentum from the centenary of the First World War.
Personally, I feel much more capable and, professionally, I know this visit has made me a more aware and better informed curator. The trip was transformative!
Leeds Museums and Galleries is always looking for new opportunities for partnership work to connect stories relating to our collections and the histories of Leeds to our audiences. Lucy’s trip didn’t only create new connections, but resulted in concrete plans for future joint project working, which exceeded my expectations of what would come out of this initial research trip. We are grateful for the support of the Working Internationally Regional Project and the British Council in supporting Lucy and Leeds Museums and Galleries in this work.
Yvonne Hardman, Head of Collections & Programming, Leeds Museums & Galleries
You can also read the Storify collated from Lucy's Twitter reports from India by clicking HERE.