Museums, a journey through history to future | By Shazia Cheema

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Museums, a journey through history to future


CULTURE is not a luxury for the so-called elite, but the foundation of a free society, therefore preserving and exhibiting the history of a country is actually promoting culture and protecting its heritage.

Since culture, visual arts, history and theatre are core areas of my interest as an academician and student of Philosophy of Communication, therefore visiting and study museums are exciting and important regions of my work.

This summer when I was travelling and visiting European museums including in Budapest, Prague, Vienna, Copenhagen, and Oslo, I found an interesting aspect of the influence of museums over travellers and I now understand why do Europeans spend so many resources and give so much preference to their museums?

When you visit a museum, you do not only see artefacts or paintings rather you start a journey to the past, present and possible future of the nation that owns the objects.

Vienna is the city of art, literature, history, and civilization of not only Austro-Hungarian culture rather it is a source of several ideas associated with the Renaissance and the birthplace of several art movements including Impressionism and Expressionism.

When you watch a piece of art or read a piece of literature, you actually communicate in a credible, understandable and interactive way with the era that poetry, prose, paintings, and artefacts belong to and represent.

While visiting “Belvedere”, one of the oldest museums in the world and a venue for contemporary art, I asked myself why do we not have a Belvedere museum that can link our past with our present and future? We know that a museum of relevance has a presence in people’s minds and hearts. Belvedere like Museum is a point of reference in a disorienting present.

A historical constant, it links the past with the future. It is independent. It sees itself as a learning and teaching organization.

A museum of relevance takes a stand on contemporary issues and social policy. It raises its voice for art and its democratizing potential.

It takes responsibility for ecological concerns about the planet. Its contribution to the development of society promotes social justice. Its attitude sets an example; its voice is heard.

I don’t want to compare European museums with what we have in Pakistan because one can say our society is still serving and surviving through the reality of bed and bread.

However, when I see Villas and farmhouses in Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta, I ask myself why do we not establish jewel-like Belvedere palaces (museum) that were actually a summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663–1736)? We have government bungalows spreading over hectares of lands where our “creme de cream” bureaucracy lives.

Can we not use one such building in one district to establish a place where our youth can come to see the heritage of their ancestors and traveller can feel the history of the land where they are travelling to?

We have been listening that government plans to convert Prime Minister House, Governor’s Houses and such lush green huge places into universities.

I strongly believe that visiting museums is a search for beauty, truth, and meaning in our lives. Can we use just one such place for a beautiful museum of Belvedere stature?

This decision would not need any financial resources to make such a place into a museum. Pierre-Auguste Renoir was a French artist who was a leading painter in the development of the Impressionist Style.

He says: “If out of a million visitors there is even one to whom art means something, that is enough to justify museums.”

—The writer is an analyst writing for national and international media outlets.

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