Kamini Sawhney

Kamini Sawhney, Director, Museum of Art & Photography, Bangalore, India

Kamini Sawhney, Director, Museum of Art & Photography, Bangalore, India

Years professionally involved in the contemporary art museum field: 11 Years

Short bio/resume. Describe also your involvement with CIMAM and the museum community:

Bringing institutions together in international collaborative projects has always been one of my passions. I worked closely with peers from across the globe on multiple occasions and led international initiatives that forged new and enduring partnerships.

This vision is partly inspired by CIMAM’s work, which I have been closely following for years. My involvement with CIMAM goes back to 2012, when I received the Getty Fellowship to participate in the annual conference, held in Istanbul and then in Stockholm in 2018.

I was one of the first recipients of the Brooks fellowship at Tate Modern, in 2014. This gave me the opportunity to interact with curators and museum professionals from a world-leading institution and gain an overall understanding of the exhibition process.

As MAP’s first Director, I have brought together a young, inspired team, focused on creating a new museum experience for audiences in India. I have helped shape a vision for MAP that seeks to inspire people to interact with art in ways that encourage humanity, empathy and a deeper understanding of the world we live in.

MAP is a new Museum opening in Bangalore in December 2022. One of MAP’s key principles is to work collaboratively with the global museum community. The team has been active since 2016 and during the pandemic we swiftly redirected our efforts to the digital world. This resulted in successful international collaborations such as the online video series Museums Without Borders, where each episode juxtaposes an object from the MAP collection with one from the partner museum. So far we have collaborated with over 20 institutions including Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Asian Museum of Art, San Francisco; the British Museum and the V&A; Huis Marseille, Museum for Photography (Netherlands); Vitra Design Museum (Germany); Partition Museum (India). We have also launched another video series titled Directors’ Cut. In each episode I interview a Director of a peer institution from around the world and we discuss challenges and visions of twentieth first century museums - I was recently in conversation with Cecilia Alemani (Biennale 2022, Venice), Victoria Noorthoorn (Museo de Arte Moderno, Buenos Aires), Tristam Hunt (V&A, London), Sabyasachi Mukherjee (CSMVS, Mumbai), Manuel Rebaté (Louvre, Abu Dhabi) and more.

Previously, I headed Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation, one of the premier private collections of Modern Indian Art, where I project managed the international collaboration India and the World, A History in Nine Stories. Through these and other projects I was able to offer audiences in India the opportunity to enjoy several exhibitions in collaboration with Tate Modern, London; Foam, Amsterdam; the Duke University, Durham; KNMA, New Delhi.

I was sent on deputation to a UNDP project on artisan development that promoted the artisan’s way of life as a sustainable model of development.

Most recently I participated in The Way Forward? Art Museums and the Age of Crisis a talk presented by the Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University, and People: A Global Dialogue on Museums and Their Publics–Session 2: Interpretation hosted by The MET.

Motivation Statement: How can you contribute to CIMAM's mission and strategic goals by being a Member of the Board? (i.e strategy, membership, fundraising, governance, network in strategic regions, availability, knowledge or skills in a specific area):

CIMAM’s role of bringing together leaders in the modern and contemporary art space is needed now more than ever. We have all learnt that during a crisis, nothing holds us strong more than feeling a part of a larger community, with whom to share, debate, find solutions, create and ultimately benefit the entire museum ecosystem. Personally, by having experienced the impact of the pandemic from MAP’s perspective, a museum that has been incredibly active digitally, the most audacious and innovative ideas have come out in conversation with peers and also with leaders in other sectors. It was through exchange and conversations that we were able to sail through such difficult times. CIMAM is a unique platform that brings together specialists with a shared commitment to modern and contemporary art from across the globe and this community holds the power to meaningfully support professionals through initiatives such as Museum Watch, to effect change at policy level for example by setting codes and standards of practices and ultimately to foster relationships that may not otherwise exist.

In joining the Board of CIMAM I would like to offer to the community my experience of forging relationships between institutions in India and abroad, a knowledge of modern and contemporary Indian art, an understanding of audience and audience behaviour within the Indian context and I would encourage more institutions from India to participate in CIMAM’s initiatives. By joining the CIMAM Board I would also bring to the table the unique challenges that museums in India are facing, with a view to help voices from South Asia be heard more on international platforms.

Specifically, there are three areas of expertise that I believe would add value to my candidature:

  • An in-depth understanding of the role and issues related to women in the arts which I have explored through the arts, over the years from three perspectives: women as artists, as museum professionals (at MAP we are about to launch a sectoral study on the role of women within museums in India) and as the subjects portrayed in art through history.
  • Knowledge and awareness of contemporary practices of less known artforms such as living traditions which are unique to South Asia. I believe it is important to explore newer narratives beyond the colonial canon that we have inherited, which was often reductive in its definition of traditional artforms as “crafts”.
  • The experience of working at and seeing the potential of the intersection of art and technology through innovative collaborations with companies like Microsoft and Accenture on Artificial Intelligence, Holographic Technology and more.

I would consider it a privilege to be part of CIMAM’s Board and to have the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the growth of the network, in particular to its expansion in South Asia. At the same time, I know this would be a wonderful learning experience for me as a professional and for MAP and other institutions in India.

Describe briefly the expectations of your involvement as a CIMAM Board member and how you envision CIMAM's priorities in the next years:

There are two specific areas in which I would like to help CIMAM grow its influence in:

  • Audience development, especially in countries where there is no museum-going culture. At MAP we regularly conduct studies on audience’s behaviour, preferences and expectations. We looked at how the population considers culture and what role it plays in their daily lives. These studies help inform our programmes and will also help us shape our future strategy. While there is an abundance of data in the cultural sector in countries such as the UK or the US, the findings do not apply in other contexts, such as India. This is why a new and bespoke approach is required to change the perception of what museums are. Museums tell us about our past, about who we are today and give us clues about our future. We need to transform museums into spaces for ideas and conversations, where people can think differently and see contemporary societal challenges through new lenses.
  • To help CIMAM further its advocacy for accessibility and inclusion and to set standards for museums to be more inclusive. While in some countries, the local laws are very clear and strong with regards to making public buildings accessible to all, this may not be the case everywhere. In India for example, the requirements mandated by law are rather basic. At MAP, we engaged with specialised consultants who guided us in going above and beyond such guidelines and learned about making programmes, HR practices and digital activities inclusive and we understood this is an ongoing process that has to be done in conversation with the community. With CIMAM, we can create recommendations for best practices and for taking an inclusive approach in all aspects of a museum’s activities.