Many of us have visited museums at some point in our lives, whether it was during a school trip or family vacation. Have you ever wondered why museums are important?
Museums, for one matter, offer what classrooms cannot. It inspires, educates and garners respect for the past. When a young person leaves a museum after a tour, she is not the same person anymore. Seeing historical pieces of evidence first hand can create a lifelong memory that cannot be learned from television or books.
"Bangladesh needs more museums to inspire young people. A heritage museum, in this case, is what we want to build," artist duo Lira Mallick and Shalim Hossain Saju said to The Business Standard about their dream project. Both Lira and Saju believe that in Bangladesh, there are not enough museums to inspire the millions of young minds. "We plan to build a miniature heritage museum, primarily but not limited to the young audiences," Lira said in an interview.
Lira, a creative professional, had made up her mind to quit her job of three years. She knew the nine to five lifestyles will always hinder her passion. A post-graduate in printmaking from the University of Rajshahi, her heart belonged to the world of sculpting. Spending many years perfecting her hand in this medium; now it was time to put it at work.
Lira had been inspired by the charm of sculptures as a kid; and now, she wants to share that joy with the children of Bangladesh. Quitting her day job, she is working relentlessly to find a permanent home for her sculptures: a heritage museum, where people can go and experience the culture of Bangladesh.
"Abroad, there are many heritage museums. Now it is time for us to do something similar in Bangladesh," Lira said. Lira believes it is hard to teach history on paper, but sculptures can easily attract a young audience and instil a sense of heritage among them.
"When someone sees a miniature replica of any cultural touchstone, say, for example, the smile of the father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman or the landscapes of village life, they will be filled with a sense of patriotism," Lira added.
Both Lira and Saju think that we all have a responsibility towards our country. "These days, we are alienating ourselves from art or creativity. But our life should not be the sum of how much we earn," Saju said.
Lira and Saju conceived the plan of a miniature heritage museum almost six years ago. Their current plan is to make miniature sculptures of Bangladeshi heritage and prominent public figures. Even so, Saju has designed the proposed structure of the museum. "The proposed structure looks like the map of Bangladesh," Saju said as he showed us the 3D model of the museum premise.
The sculptures Lira has built so far for the proposed museum varies from diorama sets to human figures. Her list of sculptures includes Oporajeyo Bangla, Bangabandhu's 7th March speech expression, Lalon Shai, Smritisoudho, Shahid Minar, Doyel Chottor, Shapla Chottor, gorur garis, waterfalls, village landscapes, etc.
Sculpting demands focus and hard work. Lira had to put in hours of work for every sculpture she made. It took a toll on her health. "My right hand suffered a frozen shoulder as I had to work consistently day after day. It was an unpleasant experience, but once my dream of the museum comes true, I will not remember the physical pain," she said.
What obstacles do you face while working? We asked.
Sculptures are made using specific tools, not to mention the ingredients which breathe life into the clay. Lira had to find rare tools and ingredients. "Besides the tools, I also needed to sharpen my skill. YouTube and social media communities helped me achieve mastery," Lira said. She took to international artist communities on the internet whenever she needed to understand a new technique.
When asked about which sculpture took longer time dedication than the others, Lira was prompt to pick her most precious work.
"Remember the gesture of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman during the speech of 7th March? I am working on a sculpture of it. I have spent over one and a half years in this work. It is very close to my heart. I have to make it as accurate as possible," Lira said.
Lira and Saju believe that just like the modern world, patrons and government officials in Bangladesh will play their part in helping artists leave a footprint of their work.
"If we look at the modern world, we will see museums are an integral part of their culture," Lira said. "Countries like the US, Germany and Japan host an incredible number of museums because they have well understood the importance of relaying history to the young generation. Bangladesh is an emerging country; then why should we fall behind? Art and history should be a part of our success story too."
Artists and entrepreneurs alone cannot build a heritage museum like the one we are trying to, Lira and Saju said. Throughout the ages, governments and connoisseurs supported initiatives like this. "As artists, we are doing our best to fulfil our dream of a heritage museum. We hope others will be a part of this dream too."