Museum finds 50 rare ethnographic masks

LAHORE: The Lahore Museum has recently found rare 50 ethnographic masks of the Schlangintweits, the three brothers from Munich who were eminent explorers and scientists, in its main reserve under a curatorial training programme “Learn by Doing”, officials told Dawn.

The masks could be the Schlangintweits’ only surviving ones out the 275 such masks in the world which they had made during the tour to Indian subcontinent from 1854 to 1858. Their services were hired for the research project by the East India Company.

The officials said the museum had corresponded with British Museum, V&A Museum, Indian Museum, Calcutta, British Library and Dublin Museum for further help and sharing information but none of them had such valuable collection of the Schlangintweits’ ethnographic masks. Most of their collection was shifted and distributed to the abovementioned institutes. That’s why experts think that the 50 masks might be the only surviving ones of their collection. The discovery is being termed as a great achievement of curatorial staff regarding survival of the world’s tangible cultural heritage.

Lahore Museum’s Senior Research Officer Iffat Azeem told Dawn that an exclusively designed poster on these ethnographic masks would be put on display at the Lahore Museum on the International Museum Day on May 18.

“I shall also deliver a lecture on these masks on May 18 at the Lahore Museum,” she added.

Throwing light on ethnographic masks and their historical significance, Ms Azeem said the ethnographic contributions of the Schalagintweit brothers who were employed by the East India Company to carry out the survey work were of immense significance. They had prepared 275 ethnographic facial masks and transported them the UK along with various specimens of zoology, botany, geology and ethnography, e.g. 251 specimens of Indian fabric etc, for further investigation by scientists.

Ms Azeem is currently working on a detailed research article related to the Schlangintweits and their efforts to gauge the multiethnic society of India, keeping in view their caste, occupations, religion and sex.

The worldwide community of museums will celebrate the International Museum Day on May 18. The theme chosen for 2017 is, “Museums and contested histories: saying the unspeakable in museums”.

Lahore Museum Additional Director Naushaba Anjum said the main objective of celebrating the museum day was to raise the awareness among the public regarding their past and to highlight the importance of museums in the development of society.

Ms Anjum said the administration would observe the day by allowing free entry to the museum which would remain open to the visitors from 9am to 5pm. The museum publications and brochures of the galleries will also be distributed among the visitors.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2017