At Mumbai's Museum of Ordinary Objects, on display is the extra-ordinariness contained within mundane things

The things surrounding you at your home, workplace, or during your travel, are at least in part, mass-produced and mass consumed, ordinary objects with millions of replicas, easily identifiable and replaceable. The things you’ve grown up with, to which are attached some of your fondest memories, are often also ordinary things – a blanket, a teddy bear, a shoe, a pen, a key.

Appreciating and observing the stories that these everyday items hold, and focusing on their 'extraordinariness' is the driving force behind Museum of Ordinary Objects (MOOO), hosted in Mumbai. Co-founded by object theatre artiste Choiti Ghosh (Tram Arts Trust), Sananda Mukhopadhyay (Extension Arts) and Karan Talwar (Harkat Studios), MOOO is an alternate museum that started with the idea of exploring how one looks at, owns, shares and lives with objects.

 At Mumbais Museum of Ordinary Objects, on display is the extra-ordinariness contained within mundane things

The Museum of Ordinary Objects. All photos courtesy Karan Talwar.

“There are multi-layered connections. One is of course the very deeply personal connection, the objects that you’ve had for a long time, objects that you sleep with, that you cuddle with, carry with you wherever you go… Because they are easily identifiable, your very personal objects will also have a resonance with other people. So they’re both personal and universal at the same time,” explains Ghosh, about the uniqueness and overarching universality, and high symbolic value of the articles on display at MOOO.

Object at MOOO. Story/caption: 'Is this what your grandmother's house smelt like?'

Object at MOOO. Story/caption: 'Is this what your grandmother's house smelt like?'

Unlike other museums, MOOO aims to be a space to tell stories of ordinary people through their everyday objects, celebrating the small moments that make up life. Instead of focusing on mainstream narratives of great heroes and villains, MOOO zooms in on telling stories of different type of lives, in different ways. The museum is interested in questioning the very concept of what is special, extraordinary, premium, ordinary, and above all, reconsider the question of ‘what stories are worth telling?’

“The museumising of anything means you’re giving it a certain extraordinary value, for that much time,” says Mukhopadhyay. MOOO’s simple rationale is — 'it’s a life, so why should it not be talked about?'

Object at MOOO. Story/caption: 'We broke up 2 days before I was to fly.'

Object at MOOO. Story/caption: 'We broke up 2 days before I was to fly.'

The exhibits at MOOO are crowdsourced, and since they’re ordinary, most are touch friendly. The museum is especially interested in the materiality of an object, in the item as an archive of a micro-history, and how it's a platform upholding the biography of the exhibit itself. “When a memory becomes physical, then the form of it, what it’s lived through — it opens up the doors of your mind to a completely different imagination,” says Talwar, describing MOOO as a form of visual storytelling.

Object at MOOO. Story/caption: ‘Life was much simpler with 140 character messages, a snake game and a phone which refused to die.’

Object at MOOO. Story/caption: ‘Life was much simpler with 140 character messages, a snake game and a phone which refused to die.’

Each story is presented anonymously, aiding the sharing of more intimate ones, and in turn, making the space non-intimidating. The tone of the museum is set in one’s own mind, without any thought of the source and author of the story, simply allowing one person to unconsciously relate with another. The story of the donor is really a thought, a suggestion, from which the viewer can view their own story. “It doesn’t matter whose museum it is, whose object it is, whose story it is, because it’s all meant to be universally owned, community owned, so then why put a name?” says Ghosh about her approach.

Object at MOOO. Story/caption: 'kuch bhi kahaani bana-vana lo yaar apni taraf se (give it a story of your own)'⁠.

Object at MOOO. Story/caption: 'kuch bhi kahaani bana-vana lo yaar apni taraf se (give it a story of your own)'⁠.

The donor is given the option of either taking their object back or putting it up for barter. In case of barter, any visitor can pick up the article from the museum and leave one of theirs in its place. In essence, one can walk in, pick up a part of another’s life and story, and leave their own behind, also carrying forward the story of the object. “I think it can be quite cathartic to let something go, especially if you’re holding on to objects in a certain way, it can be nice to give it away in a way that you don’t know who's taking it; so it’s really gone,” Mukhopadhyay says.

Donors also have the choice of complementing their object with a story that can be anywhere between a word to five or six sentences, or just let it stand alone, telling its own story. Additionally, the stories are presented in tent cards, and viewers have the option of either picking up the story and reading it, or viewing the object without the story. Since experiences are resonating, a set-up like this allows one to interpret the articles freely, spending as much or as little time with one object as one wishes, finding connections with one’s own experiences. “These are things that we all relate with. So if someone’s put something, even if it’s not happened to you, you can still feel it,” says Ghosh, adding, “The minute you walk in (to) the museum, it’s already you. Because everything you see in the museum, you already have at home. It builds very deep connections.”

In this context, MOOO can be seen as celebrating the oldest museum in the world, existing in everyone’s home as it does. “There’s literally five objects I can count which make my home. If I come and I put these five objects in any space, then that is my home,” explains Talwar, about the extraordinary bond that the exhibits at MOOO highlight. Besides a deep connection, the museum is also bringing to the foreground the special moments in a life that’s otherwise repetitive, lived on a routine day-to-day basis. “The story, the object, its significance, its temporality, its physicality, the politics and connotations of it, its design sensibility and the art history, you see all these tangents,” Talwar adds.

Object at MOOO. Story/caption: 'Delhi Trip'.

Object at MOOO. Story/caption: 'Delhi Trip'.

Since the articles work in multitudinous ways and essentially stand on their own, MOOO doesn’t go out to curate them. “We’re not curators. We’re the drop off point and we’re the display people,” Ghosh explains. Their interventions are limited to providing a framework of storytelling through the museum, and in this instance, asking for objects one has brought with them to the city. MOOO also facilitates displaying one's stories in a way that leads to a narrative larger than the object itself. The items are placed in terms of stories, starting with the longest ones and ending with one-word or no-story pieces. After going through a few articles, one’s mind settles into a rhythm, making one increasingly less dependent on written cues while walking through the space. “It is very, very immersive, and we always encourage people to walk alone,” says Ghosh, describing MOOO as a personal experience, and adding: “Allow the object to seep into you, allow yourself to meet the object. It’s quite a riveting experience.”

The Museum of Ordinary Objects will run from 19 to 21 July at Harkat Studios, Mumbai. More details here.

Updated Date: Jul 21, 2019 11:44:29 IST