This August, Rereeti features four young professionals who are part of the cultural field, practicing as curators, archivists and conservators in museums and heritage sites.
This week, we engage in a tête-à-tête with Shruti Gautam.
Shruti Gautam entered the museum sector as a documentation assistant with a stint at the Shreyas Folklore Museum in Ahmedabad followed by another one at Pratapnagar Narrow Gauge Heritage Park and Museum. She hit her stride as an archivist, first with Eka Cultural Resources and Research, working at the General Amar Singh Kanota Library & Museum in Jaipur, and later at Baroda’s Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum. As a museum professional, she is keen on collection management, documentation and research.
Image: The Lokayatan Folk Museum, established in 1977, contains objects of crafts, utensils, domestic items, costumes and ceremonial objects from different communities and tribes in Gujarat.
Rereeti: Tell us about your academic background and how you got into this field?
Shruti Gautam: I graduated with a BA in History from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi and decided to pursue a master’s in museology at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Vadodara as I was enthused about working with artifacts that I had only ever studied about. Taking up another master’s degree in art history from the same university was a personal decision as I was keen to know about the visual arts and issues associated with it.
For me, studying art history complemented museology as the former deals with collections while the latter deals with curation.
Studying museology gave me the opportunity to interact with students pursuing painting, sculpture, graphics and art history; they offered me different viewpoints to interpret museum collections. On the other hand, art history helped me gain a deeper understanding of visual arts. The two degrees lent me a comprehensive understanding of collections, curation and running a museum.
Rereeti: What are some of the misconceptions you had prior to joining the field?
Shruti: Both positive as well as negative experiences help you in evolving as an individual, and I have had both in my assignments.
I did not have unrealistic expectations about financial viability when I joined the profession and neither did I allow social acceptability to influence my decision. My parents, though initially apprehensive about my choice of profession, have been very supportive of my decisions.I think anyone who joins the museum profession knows the pros and cons of it.
Reading up about the field of museology and talking to professors definitely gave me perspective about what being a museum professional entails. It is important to make an informed choice. What motivates me is the work ethics and dedication of senior museum professionals to their areas of interest. Finances get better as one climbs the ladder, however, you need to be patient.
Rereeti: What motivates you as a museum professional?
Shruti: If you are a history buff, museum sector offers you a platform to work with the objects and communicate stories to visitors. I find it thrilling to work with the artifacts, hands on. When you document a museum object, you give it an identity and save it for posterity. In museums we deal with objects that have witnessed the travails of time. Thus, care and handling becomes a crucial factor when working with the objects.
A work of art is a storehouse of various narratives. Art history gives you the tools to gain an insight about it.
On a social level, one gets to interact with researchers who are working on a specific subject, including the collections of the museum you are working with. Their experience enriches my corpus of knowledge. On the other hand, giving a guided tour to visitors of all age groups is something I am equally enthusiastic about. Contrary to the popular belief, not everyone finds museums boring. There are people who are very inquisitive and ask you questions.
I have many memorable experiences interning and working in the museum sector so far. As a student interning at Bhopal’s Regional Museum of Natural History, I gave a guided tour of the museum galleries to a group of visually impaired high school students. Their enthusiasm and curiosity was infectious. It has been an unparalleled experience for me.
Rereeti: What are the networking opportunities available to museum professionals in India?
Shruti: Career growth in museum sector, as in any sector, is intimately linked with experience and knowledge. Forums such as LinkedIn and Emerging Museum Professionals help museum professionals to make connections across genres and geographies. There are many active groups dedicated to the heritage and cultural sector on Facebook.
Some of my close friends are in the heritage sector as we studied together. There are times when I get to meet other professionals through these friends. In the course of working on projects, I met specialists on subjects such as Persian, photography and textile to name a few. It is always a delight to meet a subject specialist as they are generous in sharing their knowledge and experience with beginners. Conferences and workshops, first held at the college I studied, and later at the various museums I worked at, have continued to give me the opportunity to interact with eminent art historians, museum professionals and other specialists.
Rereeti: What about continuing professional development once you gain some experience?
Shruti: There are many workshops and short term courses meant for the professional development for museum professionals across the globe. Fellowships offered by The Getty Foundation, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian Fellowships, and training programs at the British Museum are some of the best opportunities to continue your growth as a professional. There are many training programs and conferences organized by reputed museums in the country that provide opportunities to interact and learn from other museum professionals. Learning is a never ending process and for those interested, there is a plethora of options in the museum sector.
Rereeti: How can we better the museum sector in India?
Shruti: Change begins at an elementary level and therefore, schools should encourage museum visits. Our education policy should emphasize the significance of a museum in a civilized world. Museums need to reinvent themselves in order to be more relevant to society in the 21st century. They need to make their presence felt, be it on social media or within the cultural debates and policies that shape our cities. Secondly, every visitor loves a well-designed and illustrated exhibition, so more attention needs to be placed on an inclusive, holistic exhibition narration. Museums can also reach out to a larger audience, comprising all age groups, through various activities held within and outside the museum premise. Museums such as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sanghralaya and Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum are doing exemplary work in this direction.
Rereeti: Advice that you would like to pass on to freshers.
Shruti: Travel and interact as much as you can. Keep yourself updated with the new trends and debates in the museum sector globally. Keep a pragmatic approach and be flexible. Experience is the best teacher – clichéd, but true!