Please tell us about yourself
Savita Monie is program manager at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
As a child, Savita Monie would look forward to the weekends as that was when her parents would take her to the flea markets of Mumbai where she grew up. She would visit these markets on a mission – to hunt for treasure. Fond of all things old and unique, she would seek out antique stalls and would search relentlessly until she found that one rare piece.
The homes of relatives were not spared either while on holidays to Kerala. “I used to paint as a kid and as an artiste and a lover of art, I had an eye for antiques. My first purchase from the streets of Mumbai was a brass lingam cover that had a graphic image of Shiva with a moustache. Another of my earliest prized possessions was a brass coffee khooja. It was a bronze flask with a handle and two tumblers, which I found in my grandmother’s sister’s attic in Thycaud,” says Savita, whose late father, Arun Monie, has roots in the city.
Holidays spent at various historical sites instilled a strong love for history in her. “Museums were also a regular haunt,” says the post graduate in in art history and museology from New York University.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and fascinating career?
She did her Bachelor of Arts and Masters of Arts in History from University Of Bombay and masters in Art History, Museum Studies from New York University.
An internship at Brooklyn Musuem in New York, intensified her love for museums. “I worked in the Asia Department of the museum and was fortunate to be part of a project on curating Indian miniature paintings for an exhibition. I have been working with museums since 1996.”
What do you do ?
Currently working as program manager at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met), New York, Savita is now, constantly surrounded by a treasure trove of masterpieces from every culture, time period and medium.
Her job however, is to identify suitable candidates for an Indian Conservation Fellowship Programme offered by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Ministry of Culture, Government of India with partners SRAL and Freer Gallery. The programme, offers five to seven fellowships annually at the MET and the Freer Gallery in the US and SRAL in Europe, of approximately three to six months each, to Indian citizens who are at the mid stage of their professional museum careers in conservation.
“The programme is designed to impart a broad range of knowledge of best practices in conservation and the care of collections,” says Savita who was in the city for a two-day educational workshop for art museum curators on preventive conservation and care of museum collections as part of a programme by MET, The Directorate of Museums and Zoos, Government of Kerala and Stitching Restauratie Atelier Limburg, Netherlands.
According to Savita, one will often find rare art pieces in Indian museums, even in relatively small and unknown ones. “For instance, there are over 9,000 palm leaf scrolls from the 15th and 16th century in the Kerala Archives Department. The museums in the West would be lucky to own four or five.”
Most museums in India, says Savita lack proper collection management practices. “A museum, should be welcoming. Lighting, a proper display, informative label on where the work was found, which dynasty it is from and a brief about the piece… all these go a long way in attracting visitors to museums. If you can’t air condition the whole museum, focus on the main exhibit areas. Refreshments and clean restrooms help too.“
She also suggests each museum highlight a few of their artefacts. “Each museum will have some pieces that are unique, place them as main exhibits and highlight them with proper information about them.”
Although online sites can give us virtual tours of art galleries from across the world, “seeing it online only whets one’s appetite to see the real thing”, says Savita, who adds that children should be exposed to art at a young age. School trips to museums should be encouraged. “Only then will will children develop a taste for art, history and culture.”
MET, says Savita, holds regular exhibitions to inculcate a love for art amongst its visitors. “In fact, recently we had an exhibition of late Indian photographer Raghubir Singh’s works.”
Although she rarely visits flea markets or rummages through attics these days, she does pick up paintings of upcoming Indian artists on her birthday and anniversary. “All the paintings deck the walls of my home. I plan to gift them to my sons, Nikhil and Sameer, when they are older.”