On Wednesday 13 April, at the LPT-organized launch of Emmanuel Richon’s beautiful Dodo Museum (a virtual museum), controversy broke out. The launch was at the LPT Mother Earth Hall, and was well attended by scientists, LPT members, Lalit members and academics.
Rada Kistnasamy was presiding for LPT, and had given the history of LPT’s collaboration with the creator of the Museum, as well as linking the launch of the new web site to the LPT’s Knowledge for All programmes. The Dodo Museum is in two languages, French and Kreol. Pushpa Lallah is credited with work on the Kreol, while Krishna Thirapati is credited with the sound-track, which is also bilingual.
Mr. Wahab Owadally, ex-head of Bois et Forets had made his launch speech, during which he gave reasonable criticisms of the State’s constant neglect of museum development. In particular he lamented the complete abandon of any attempt to display the immense collection of Dodo bones, amounting to 30 kilos, nearly half the world’s collection. He also said that Mauritius Institute is the only place in the world that owns a complete Dodo skeleton (it is missing just the coxys). Other important biological exhibits are equally abandoned to neglect. He brought a very fine carving of a dodo from his private collection. He described the Emmanuel Richon site as pedagogically, historically and scientifically very well done, and praised Emmanuel Richon for his meticulousness. He made a well-intentioned criticism of the lack of details on the particular dodo discoveries in Mauritius on the site.
Emmanuel Richon was making his speech, also criticizing the State for allowing treasures like Renoir and other paintings to go unnoticed, and, for example, refusing to adopt and display the popular exhibition of Mauritian Monuments in miniature, created by himself. He said there was still, however, space for freedom, for example on the world-wide-web, where his site is housed, and in places like LPT, which is launching the site.
Present, though uninvited, was Mr. Cader Calla, a Government nominee who is both Director of the National Museums Council and President of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (nominated to replace the previous president who was ousted for being rather too independent in the eyes of the Prime Minister).
He stood up in cavalier fashion and interrupted Emmanuel Richon’s speech. He accused Mr. Owadally of criticizing when he was himself previously in charge. He also tried to provoke Emmanuel Richon. Mr. Calla said, in his defense, that the recent Government budget had voted a mere Rs10 for a new museum. What, he said, was he supposed to do with that? Mr. Richon replied that with zero rupees he had set up a virtual Dodo Museum, in which everyone had helped voluntarily, and had even made three oil reproductions of famous dodo paintings from the 18th Century, which were present in the LPT hall on display. A heated debate continued for a while.
Mr. Calla then announced that he was leaving, as he had not been invited and as he did not want to offend LPT, which was hosting the event. Mr. Owadally tried to persuade him to stay, but he left.
Everyone present was very interested in the confrontation that they had witnessed, to see all the conflicts exposed and also because the confrontation exposed something else: the fact that there is agreement amongst perhaps the three most important people in the museum world on the shameful disrespect of the State for its museums. There was also unanimity on the tragedy of the Government’s project that will wipe out indigenous forest lands in Ferney to make way for a highway that will get tourists to some hotels and IRS schemes faster. This will risk making further species extinct, protagonists agreed.
Lalit has in the past deplored the Government’s lack of funds for the National Archives, and the economic stifling of all art and heritage that is secular and unifying. The Government prefers pumping money into what it calls “culture”, and which is religious or communally “paying” in terms of electoral clientelism of the worst kind.
If readers wish to visit this interesting site, just type the words [mize dodo] in a Google search, and the first item will give you it (It’s address is long and complicated).