An Lanntair and Museum nan Eilean made history in numerous ways last night (Friday August 11th) with the opening of the Colin Mackenzie exhibition in the new museum.
Collector Extraordinaire brings together for the first time, some of the vast collection of items and images brought together by Stornoway man Colin Mackenzie during his decades in India in the late 18th Century and early 19th century. He died in 1821 without returning home.
This collection is now split between the British Library, British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum, all in London; and numerous collections in India, and forms the basis for modern understanding of much of India’s history.
It had always been Colin Mackenzie’s intention to return home to Stornoway and show some of what he had found…but death intervened before this could be achieved. Now – because of the ultra-modern, high quality display opportunity offered by the galleries at the international-standard Museum nan Eilean – it has become possible to realise his dream.
But none of this would have been possible without the staff of An Lanntair Arts Centre and particularly Catherine Maclean who was publicly deluged with praise during last evening’s event by representatives of the other organisations involved.
Catherine Maclean herself made an impassioned plea for people to visit the exhibition and immerse themselves in the Purvai Festival, celebrating South Indian culture and the links between the Hebrides and India in the year that marks the 70th anniversary of Partition and the end of the British-ruled Indian Empire.
Speaking at the start of the official launch party last night (Friday), the Convener of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Norman Macdonald, said: “It is quite extraordinary to think that today we open this exhibition which has been, in effect, 196 years in the making.” He thanked the three national museums, An Lanntair, Events Scotland, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the British Council, and the others involved in the project.
Catherine Maclean said: ”No project happens because of one person; it’s always a collective effort.” It’s taken many years to get to this point and many people contributed, she said. She made the first of several visits to India in 2010 and it was after that she discovered Colin Mackenzie and his work. And then she found that the Collection which he amassed had never been displayed in an exhibition.
She praised the three London museums for their support during the whole process of creating the exhibition.
Today (Saturday August 12th) in An Lanntair at 11.30am, as part of Purvai, there's Sona Datta talking on the Ancient Monuments of Mahabalipuram. Sona Datta, presenter of BBC4’s Treasures of the Indus, tells of this World Heritage site which is extensively documented in the Mackenzie Collection. Mahabalipuram was the major seaport of the Pallava Kingdom in the 7th century. Sona Datta is an art historian and cultural collaborator who until recently was Head of South Asian art at the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts where she extended the museum’s world-renowned modern Indian collections to include the best contemporary art referencing all of South Asia.
Sona previously worked at the British Museum for eight years where her exhibitions included the flagship Voices of Bengal season (2006), which attracted more people of South Asian extraction than any project in the British Museum’s history. Sona also radically redefined the British Museum’s engagement with modern collecting through the acquisition of contemporary art from Pakistan that linked to the Museum’s rich holdings of historic Mughal painting.
In 2015 she wrote and presented Treasures of the Indus, described as providing adventure with engaging historical and cultural material, lifting the veil on the region’s past and proving you must know where you have been to know where you’re going.