Undertaking the placement at the Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery has been an exciting opportunity to work alongside the museum’s curators and gain a wide range of practical experience in the sector. I had never worked in a museum before and both the idea of starting with a small institution and the interesting blurb of the ‘India’s Gateway: Gujarat, Bombay and Britain’ exhibition convinced me to put Blackburn as my first placement choice.
Apart from a very welcoming team, keen to involve me in all sorts of activities and tasks, I found the collections in Blackburn to be far more interesting than I was expecting. The rare manuscripts and coins of the Hart Gallery and, especially, the section dedicated to the Japanese prints won me over rather quickly, but it would be unfair not to mention the Victorian paintings and the South Asian Gallery as well.
In this respect, the ‘India’s Gateway’ acted perfectly as a contact point with the 1980’s South Asian Gallery. The touring exhibition, based on photographs by Tim Smith and an installation by Indian film-makers Amit Madheshiya and Shirley Abraham, came to Blackburn after being hosted in the other five venues across the UK and, in comparison with the permanent South Asian Gallery, offered a more modern perspective of the Indian subcontinental communities. Blackburn Museum was not a fortuitous choice, since the borough of Blackburn and Darwen hosts one of the biggest Indian communities in the country.
Before launching the ‘India’s Gateway’ I had the chance to help the curators with the general planning of the exhibition. I have been actively involved in the selection of the photographs to be displayed as well as in the installation process. Probably hanging the pictures on the gallery’s walls was at once the most challenging and enjoyable task of the placement. I also set up and managed a new Instagram profile to promote the exhibition’s launch event, something that enabled me to implement my background in communication studies.
Working in a local institution like the Blackburn museum also meant undertaking very practical jobs: from whitewashing plinths to re-organising the art store, but what I sought more from my experience in Blackburn, and I largely found, was having the chance to interact and be familiar with a small team of practitioners.
Therefore, what I will surely take away with me from this placement are the hours spent unpacking and packing photographs and panels, the meetings before the exhibition and the evaluations after it, the time spent with the curators trying to get the most from each single exhibit in the gallery, but also the little party for the retirement of one of the staff members as well as the good chats with everyone during the launch breaks.