Text | Sara Yawar
Visuals | Courtesy of Citizens Archive Pakistan
The National History Museum, a project initiated by the Government of Punjab, was inaugurated on the 17th of April, 2018 in Lahore. Curated by the Citizen’s Archive of Pakistan, this project aimed to honor Pakistan’s history dating up to the partition. By shedding light on events such as the Lahore Resolution, Gandhi-Jinnah talks, Indian Independence Act etc, this museum resurrected all these episodes into works of art, using technology and design. Since its inauguration, the museum has had over a hundred thousand visitors.
However, there is a lot to observe about the museum’s building as well, taking its locality and the architecture into consideration. According to Nida Ali who is the Director of NHS, the Greater Iqbal Park, previously known as Minto Park, was chosen as the museum’s location since the Lahore Resolution was passed there in 1940; this not only suited the theme well but also paid homage to the creation of Pakistan. Another observation that can be made about the building is its fusion themed architecture; a post-modern building with an amphitheater, which is an ancient roman theatrical platform, situated within its exterior space.
“The architecture of the museum is an extension of the philosophy that NESPAK (National Engineering Services of Pakistan) used to develop the design of the Greater Iqbal Park, within which the museum is located. Therefore, the design of the museum is in harmony with the design of the rest of the park, reflective of certain elements of historical architecture seen in Lahore”, says Ali.
The museum exhibits have been organized chronologically, marking significant events leading up to independence, with each event having its own room and a specific interior design suited to the theme of the display. The first hall titled “Preserving History” introduced the viewers to oral history and archives while the second hall titled “Foreword” introduced the viewers to a segment that focused on the involvement and activities of the East India Company (EIC), leading to the inception of the British Raj. Then begins the Leaders Wall, focusing on all major events that occurred between 1940 and1960 including; the Lahore Resolution, the 3rd June Plan and the Gandhi-Jinnah talks. The segment on the Gandhi-Jinnah talks also featured letters that were exchanged between the two leaders in digital form and a sculptural relief that depicts the two leaders.
After documenting the struggle for Independence, we now enter the hall titled “Journey to Pakistan” which focuses on the arrival of people from India to Pakistan. The next segment, being the crux of Pakistan’s history, documents the 1947 Riots which depict the arrival of the migrants and the violence that followed. An installation of suitcases has been featured in this hallway along with life-sized video projections and animations featuring the strenuous process of migration. After this we enter a space titled “Wagah Station” that features a train bogey called the ‘North Western Railway’, which is also a virtual reality experience that’s places the viewers in the position of a migrant journeying to Pakistan. The next exhibit captioned “Refugees” focused on the allotment of housing to the migrants by the government of Pakistan after which they were issued individual passports. This exhibit featured an interactive photo booth display of an enormous passport behind which visitors can get their own photographs taken while a migrant camping tent was also put on display supported by various kinds of luggage. After the Refugees exhibit followed a section titled “Government of Pakistan” in which a room sized pop-up of a rehabilitation office was put on display supported by old furniture and contraptions.
A segment titled “Armed Forces” featured Presidential award medals, war planes and ships. The highlight of this segment was the Pakistan Women’s National Guard and Pakistan Women’s Naval Reserve, which was initiated by Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan. While there were a few more spaces that featured the culture and famous women of Pakistan, an interesting segment that followed was the “Young Historians exhibit” which featured eye-catching and colorful pop-ups curated by Dot & Line. Focusing on young viewers, this exhibit featured animations of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Saadequain and Noor Jehan in order to educate them about the different themes of art. These pop-ups were created by Karachi based graphic designer Muhaddisa Shahzad who is an alumnus of the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. According to Shahzad, she was assigned the task of making an amalgamation of a 2D and 3D space which was quite challenging considering it was being designed for children, “It is designed for children to interact with the esteemed artists and experience how it feels in their workspaces. Children respond to space, objects and stories, and I believe this innovative approach to narrate history was a remarkable idea.”
Another interesting pop-up featured the launch of Nigar Awards dating back to 1958, which were also considered the most prestigious national awards that time. This segment displayed illustrations of popular national singers like Amanat Ali, Runa Laila, Noor Jehan, Mehdi Hassan, Ahmed Rushdi and many other iconic figures of the 50s era, each illustration designed like a book which could flip open for viewers to read up on brief biographical accounts of the singers. By using striking colors, these pop-ups were perhaps one of the most interactive visuals on display at the museum.
Towards the end, the “Heroes Gallery” featured portraits and bios of all the people who contributed to the creation of Pakistan; the gallery displaying a fine interior design with huge arches and walls. Apart from images, busts were placed on plinths while modern chandeliers hung above each bust with marble flooring across the entire hall, creating the aura of a Greek museum. While a holographic exhibit was also a part of the museum’s setting, perhaps the most intriguing visual on display. The hologram shows Quaid-e-Azam giving his 15th August address to the nation, invoking a sense of nostalgia amongst the viewers.
Looking at the museum overall, it has spacious exhibits with a large ceiling and a light color palette for the floor, possibly to give it the feel of a white cube. Having such an interactive display was perhaps why an amphitheater was a part of the museum; to make it more engaging for the viewers. Secondly, this museum is perhaps one of a kind in Pakistan, with video projections, virtual reality and the holographic footage being a part of its fascinating experience. In a country where museums are mostly neglected, this was perhaps a remarkable initiative taken by the Government of Punjab to help people connect with art and history; “The museum uses interactive and communicative art so that visitors can be actively engaged with the content, and therefore their historical roots and origins. We wanted to particularly engage the youth, who have lost touch with stories of partition because such conversations are no longer active in many households.” says Ali. This museum not only paid homage to our ancestors and leaders but it is also a step towards educating our people about art; this will hopefully encourage our country’s people to appreciate art and will motivate coming generations to take up artistic career paths.