Man plays an active role in shaping his environment and this leads to the formation and growth of social practices, belief structures, knowledge systems and skills required for the production of objects that reflect all these, or what is simply called culture. The shaping of human environment is an on going process and it leads to cultural transformations, and such transformations are a part of man's self-transformation. Since this is a historical process and not a mere random event it is always necessary to have a larger perspective which goes beyond present imperatives and taste. It is also through these that he develops a sense of identity and sense of collective belonging in spite of individual differences and periodic shifts in focus or change in values. Preserving this sense of identity and continuity is one of the things that keeps societies going and powers their growth and self-transformation. Any society or nation that wishes to transform itself without destabilising its sense of oneness should have a perspective and a programme not only for nurturing culture but also for conserving culture.
The individual too however innovative requires contact with collective cultures to keep him on even keel and enrich his own repertoire of experience and skills while ushering changes. To him it is a collective unconscious to which he can always turn when he is in need. It also helps him to establish contact with a larger body of people spread across history, both backward and forward. The museums are the material manifestations of this collective unconscious that plays a role in building bridges of communication across time and cultures. But what are collected in museums are fragmentary fossils of cultures that were once alive. And even the most exquisite art objects do not speak to us directly but only through a culture and through the many intangible values that holds it (or once held it) together, and many of these, including aesthetic engagement, are acquired intangible values. A creative individual may occasionally make a personal contact with the fossil remains of a culture and breathe fresh life into it. But if we wish to go beyond that our museums should become more than repositories.
These are some of the thoughts that led to this issue of ART news & views focusing on the Indian Antiquities and Art Treasures, its legal and operational aspects, and some of our distinguished museums.