International Museum Day | From preserving objects to exhibitions: Pursuing a career in museology

International Museum Day | From preserving objects to exhibitions: Pursuing a career in museology

International Museum Day | From preserving objects to exhibitions: Pursuing a career in museology

In a museum, every object on display has a purpose. The artefacts’ placement, description, and even the room lighting are carefully planned.

All credit goes to people who ensure that a museum is not an abode of old objects but a place where artefacts tell a story. For them, a museum is not only their workplace but also a space that serves them as much as they serve it.

With growing digitisation, our museums are evolving and there’s more and more need for museum professionals.

On International Museum Day, Firstpost spoke with museologists in India on why they chose this path and what all goes into making museum experiences enthralling.

Muesology is not a very well-known career in the country yet it was Somya Malik’s calling since childhood.

Malik told Firstpost that she inherited an interest in museums from her parents who would take her to museums across India during school vacations.

“But I was unfamiliar with a career as a museologist until the final year of my graduation. A senior of mine was studying museology and I took guidance from her,” Malik said.

‘Mix of research, cataloging, and field work’

After graduating from Indraprastha College for Women, Malik completed her Masters from the National Museum Institute of History of Art, Conservation and Museology in Delhi.

Following this, she worked at the National Museum in the capital for nearly two years before enrolling at Delhi University where she is currently pursuing her PhD.

She’s also heading the Department of Archives and Museology at the Asiatic Society for Social Science Research.

Working in a museum is a mix of research, cataloging, and teamwork, Malik said.

“As a museum professional, my responsibilities involved keeping track of all the objects there, organising exhibitions and preserving artefacts,”

“It’s teamwork. We would divide our responsibilities. Someone will do the research, others would be involved in making labels, listing, photography, digitisation and maintaining records,” she added.

Alishah Ali (photo one, first from right) with her colleagues at her office Kathika Museum and Somya Malik (second photo) at the National Museum, Delhi. Image credit: Alishah Ali & Somya Malik.

Being a museologist also gives one an opportunity to do fieldwork. Malik’s work allowed her to travel to study objects at museums across India including the country’s oldest- the Indian Museum in Kolkata.

Telling the story of India’s partition

For Alishah Ali, a career in museology allowed her to become a part of The Partition Museum in New Delhi since its inception.

The museum opened to the public today.

Ali not only collected oral testimonies of partition survivors, but she also witnessed the restoration of the Dara Shikoh Library which hosts The Partition Museum.

“My favourite part has to be collating oral history recordings and making the museum alive by getting the community involved,” she said.

A history graduate, Ali received her Masters in heritage conservation from the Delhi Institute of Heritage Research & Management.

She worked at The Partition Museum from April 2021 to April 2023, and is currently the Creative Director at the upcoming Museum and Cultural Centre- Kathika in Old Delhi.

“There isn’t a defined job role when you are working in a museum. And that’s the best part in the initial years as you get to learn a lot and then later you decide what roles work for you the best,” Ali told Firstpost.

Also read: A 200-year-old heritage building in Bengaluru houses museum showcasing India’s postal history

For Malik, the best part of her job was when she was selected to work on a special exhibition.

She picked objects that had to be sent from the National Museum to another country for display.

I had to first choose a theme in line with visitors’ interest in that country and then list the objects. You have to select the items keeping in mind that they won’t get damaged while being shipped,” Malik said.

Passion over everything else

While their job entails a lot of meticulous tasks and thought processes, many people still see museums as uninteresting places.

But both Malik and Ali say that museologists are changing that perception.

Workshops, souvenir stores and museums on wheels are initiatives that have enhanced visitors’ experiences, Malik added.

“Museums are being seen as places that have something for everyone. Curators are now looking at accessibility, digital and interactive displays to curate a better visitor experience,” Ali said.

Both Malik and Ali say that a career as a museum professional is about passion over everything else.

“The budgets of the museums and cultural institutions in India are still scarce but the future looks bright for the sector,” Ali added.

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