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International Museum Day show attracts history lovers

Updated May 19, 2017 06:59am
Firdausi’s Shahnama -Photos by White Star
Firdausi’s Shahnama -Photos by White Star

KARACHI: An exhibition of what the organisers called ‘masterpieces’ to mark International Museum Day generated a great deal of interest among art and history lovers at the National Museum of Pakistan on Thursday.

The show featured a fine variety of artefacts, manuscripts, pottery and woodwork from the days of yore. One of the first exhibits that caught the media’s eye was ‘Bust of King Priest — Steatite Moenjodaro’ (2500-1500 BC). It was pretty astounding to see the Priest King’s bust, which is an extremely rare object, in decent condition. No less well-preserved, although an entirely different thing in terms of shape and size, was “a gold bracelet with a hinged clasp”. As per the caption that accompanied the piece of jewellery, the gems in the corner crescent and dots are missing, and the body is decorated with knots, leafy and other patterns.

For those who are interested in mythology, there was an intriguing gold repousse figure of “winged Aphrodite” made in two pieces joined at the back edge. It was from the 1st century AD.

Some ivory paintings -Photos by White Star
Some ivory paintings -Photos by White Star

As far as the written text goes, Firdausi’s Shahnama in the Nastaleeq script (1619 AD) was quite a delectable sight. One wanted to thumb through it, but it was thoughtfully placed in a glass case.

There were two sections of the exhibition hall, the first of which had the above-mentioned objects, and the second, on a raised platform, had pieces that were not as old. One of the exhibits there was of antique woodwork. It was a nice-looking piece and had a key that looked remarkably well-kept, coming across as good as new.

Bust of Priest King -Photos by White Star
Bust of Priest King -Photos by White Star

Talking to Dawn, American archaeologist and professor of anthropology Dr Jonathan Mark Kenoyer, who addressed the audience after the show’s inauguration, said the objects presented in the exhibition were nayaab (rare). “This Priest King is the only one in the world,” he claimed.

He was of the opinion that the display on Thursday was of international standard. Explaining how one could gauge the authenticity of an old object, he said one way to judge it is to take the pieces to the sarrafa bazaar and try and make duplicate or fake copies of them; no one will be able to do it. The kind of artisanship employed in the historic exhibits, he explained, doesn’t exist anymore. Also, he said, it’s not pure gold that’s used in the displayed works because in the past one needed some kind of milawat (adulteration or dilution) to create such works.

A gold bracelet -Photos by White Star
A gold bracelet -Photos by White Star

Answering a question on the importance of appreciating antiquities, Dr Kenoyer said one who doesn’t know about his civilisation is not a human being. “If you can’t value civilisation, then you will be unable to value humanity.”

The culture, tourism and antiquities department, government of Sindh, which organised the event, should be commended for their effort. However, they would have been better served had they paid a bit more heed to the captions for the exhibits, because some of the typos proved confusing to understand the history of the works on display.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2017