Eka highlights need for professionals to change cultural entrepreneurship

The team has worked on a diverse set of projects, ranging from private museums such as the Amrapali Museum in Jaipur and the Kasturbhai Lalbhai Museum in Ahmedabad.

Deepthi Sasidharan is a fund of fascinating stories. Not surprisingly, since she is director of the well-regarded — and possibly unique — heritage consultancy, Eka Resources, which she co-founded with Pramod Kumar K G in 2009. Sasidharan recalls one of their first projects, at Mandir Palace in Jaisalmer, for which they were documenting hundreds of swords. “We had put the swords on the floor. One of the palace retainers pulled me aside and said that, in Rajput culture, a sword is a symbol of pride and is worshipped. It should not be put on the floor,” she reminisces. It’s a lesson she follows to this day — of always respecting a community’s, family’s and individual’s attachments, beliefs and traditions while working with a collection or archive.

These days, the Eka team, which comprises archivists, conservation architects, museologists and history students, is busy with designer Wendell Rodricks’ upcoming Moda Goa Museum. Based in the beautiful Goan village of Colvale, the space will be a unique museum, offering a snapshot of the evolution of Goan sartorial style. The museum will evoke personal stories behind clothing, accessories, old photos, embroidery and magazines, diligently collected by Rodricks over the past 18 years. “A 400-year-old laterite stone building is being restored and re-adapted. Rodrick’s initiative will also feature a research centre,” says Sasidharan.

The Moda Goa Museum is just one of the many projects that dot the near-decade-long-journey of the organisation, which started out as the first home-grown consultancy in the heritage space. “It was the first company in the cultural sector that was not an NGO, or a charity, or a CSR wing or an institution,” says Sasidharan.

The team has worked on a diverse set of projects, ranging from private museums such as the Amrapali Museum in Jaipur and the Kasturbhai Lalbhai Museum in Ahmedabad; company archives for Fabindia and Tata Capital; documenting, digitising and managing photo collections and then mounting an exhibition around them, such as Indira: A Life of Courage for the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust.
How does one shine the spotlight on India’s much-neglected “cultural resources”? Can one get archives to talk? How does one rescue collections from storehouses and establish a connection with the public? It was to answer these questions that Kumar and Sasidharan started Eka Resources. Both brought considerable expertise to the job: Kumar had worked with the Alkazi Foundation, City Palace Udaipur and with Rajeev Sethi in setting up the Silk Route Exhibition at the Smithsonian; Sasidharan, a trained museologist, was then Chief Archivist at the Tata Central Archives.

The duo met while working on Jaipur’s Anokhi Museum and found themselves discussing the need for an agency to help with documentation or in setting up a library. Nothing of the kind existed — so they decided to start one themselves.

“We were both at the peak of our careers. But we felt that if we didn’t take the plunge, it will never happen,” says Sasidharan. There was no home-grown model to follow, and a Western one wouldn’t work in the Indian ecosystem.

It took a while for people to fully comprehend what Eka offered. “For a long time, we were known as Eka Archiving. Some listed us as interior decorators. One former aristocrat from Hyderabad said, ‘You are like kabadiwalas, since you cart old things out’,” reminisces Sasidharan.
Eka’s core team of ten now shuttles across the continent, documenting artworks for the Piramal Art Foundation in Mumbai, setting up the first private museum on paper currency in Bengaluru, helping UNESCO with policy frameworks, and documenting and preserving one of the largest collections of clothing and textiles in Saudi Arabia.

Many of Eka’s projects have come about because of individuals who are passionate about their heritage and wish to give back to the community. “Some of them are well-read, well-travelled, second- or third-generation collectors who wish to share their collections with the city. The Lalbhai family is a great example of that,” says Sasidharan.

Kumar says that these individual-driven collections are the way forward, since the country was not shaped by one universal grand narrative but by diverse streams of thought. And these private museums bring out nuances connected with smaller, more personal histories better than large public ones.

Eka’s clients are impressed by the complementary skills the two bring to the table — Kumar’s immersive knowledge of literature and art, and Sasidharan’s understanding of the corporate space. “After a couple of meetings, we realised we understood each other so well on many levels,” says Jayshree Lalbhai, who spearheaded the museum project to open up the collection of Kasturbhai Lalbhai, co-founder of the textile major, Arvind Limited. It was her first experience at bringing art to public. “It was a time of great learning for me, as Kumar helped me understand my collection better — in the way he arranged it, and the manner in which he created a narrative around the old and the contemporary,” says Lalbhai.

Amrapali’s Rajiv Arora, too, credits Eka with creating a museum design at par with international standards. “It was a difficult task to arrange our extensive collection, collected over decades. But they managed it well. Also, a jewellery museum needs two things — great lighting and good security — and both were taken care of beautifully,” he says.

In some ways, Eka’s journey is an important one to narrate, as it highlights the need for trained professionals to change the state of cultural entrepreneurship and heritage archiving in the country. Even now, mechanisms to attract young professionals who train in archiving, museology, or graphic and exhibition design are inadequate. The idea is to encourage others to take a plunge into this field. “When we were studying, with the exception of INTACH, there were hardly any platforms where one could intern in the various aspects of culture management,” says Anita Jacob, a museologist who has been working with Eka for two years. “In that respect, Eka is unique as one gets to work on diverse projects. And Pramod and Deepthi help you understand the ground realities and cultural nuances, which an organisation based out of the UK or US and working in India might not be able to.”

If an early lesson for Sasidharan was about respect for traditions, Kumar speaks of the need for patience. “Projects are aplenty. However, their realisation will happen only when it’s meant to be. Mere intent is not enough — time, experts, funds and an enabling environment are crucial catalysts, some of which are not always under our control,” says Kumar. Meanwhile, the duo continues to build on the crucial things they can control — their shared love and understanding of the country’s rich and sometimes befuddling culture.

http://www.business-standard.com/article/companies/eka-highlights-need-for-professionals-to-change-cultural-entrepreneurship-118050401220_1.html

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