‘Ghare Baire’, celebrating 200 years of Bengal art, reopens again

The popular museum-exhibition highlights art in Bengal from the 18th to the 20th centuries

A popular museum-exhibition showcasing 200 years of art, housed in a building that is nearly as old and that nearly got demolished, last weekend reopened again to the public, adding to the list of places one can visit in Kolkata following the easing of the COVID-19 pandemic-forced restrictions.

Titled Ghare Baire (after a novel by Rabindranath Tagore, based on which Satyajit Ray later made a movie), it highlights art in Bengal from the 18th to the 20th centuries and is being organised by the Ministry of Culture with the help of DAG Museums, a private entity.

Last Saturday saw the introduction of a host of new features — for children and adults alike — such as a treasure hunt exploring the hidden nooks of the historic building, quiz on art, launch of a set of 15 art activity kits and of an audio guide (in English and Bengali), and a weekend calendar of museum programmes. The reopening also includes five new artworks on display, including paintings by Jamini Roy, Bikash Bhattacharjee, and Nikhil Biswas.

“While Bengal’s contribution to the visual history of South Asia is well recognised, before ‘Ghare Baire’, we didn’t have a museum-exhibition that explored this rich history. An art museum is also necessary for a city like ours as it fosters free expression and critical thinking while nurturing a creative community. We missed this sense of community especially during the pandemic — so it is heartening to be able to restart our efforts to create this open space,” Sumona Chakravarty, deputy director of DAG Museums, told The Hindu.

“We started with a lot of plans for creating a museum experience that would offer the very best and create intimate, thought-provoking encounters between viewers and the art. We wanted each visit to the museum to reveal a new perspective, a new insight. The pandemic delayed many of these plans but we are so pleased that now, we have a range of experiences, like the audio guide or the children’s activities, that can make each visit to the museum unique,” Ms. Chakravarty said.

The exhibition-museum is housed in what is popularly known as the Old Currency Building, located in BBD Bagh in the heart of Kolkata. It came into existence in 1833 as the Agra Bank and in 1868, a decade after India formally came under British rule, was converted into the all-important office where currency was issued and exchanged.

It remained in use until 1994, when it was abandoned for having become too old; and in 1996 the Central Public Works Department initiated its demolition. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation and INTACH intervened before it could become rubble — by then its domes were gone — and subsequently the Archaeological Survey of India was entrusted with its conservation.

In January 2020, the renovated building was dedicated to the nation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, its reopening marked with the launch of ‘Ghare Baire’. But it had to close in two months, in March, due to the first wave of COVID-19, and reopened towards the end of that year, before shutting down again in March 2021 due to the second wave.

Entry to ‘Ghare Baire’ is free and its USP is making art as accessible as possible, with accompanying captions explaining every work in a manner easy to understand.

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