by Sukanya GargAug 27, 2019
When I was just a tiny toddler, we would visit my hometown in the south Indian state of Kerala and I always knew when we entered the territory because of the bright red communist flags plastered all over the place. Of course, my grandfather was convinced that I was a child prodigy and thought I was able to read because I could also recognise my parent’s bank and other places but the fact is that I was not reading words. I was reading colours and palettes and creating associations. In fact, for a long time I believed that the communist flag was the official state flag! However, the ultimate take away from this is not that I am far away from being a prodigy, rather the fact that colour is something deeply rooted in our memory, language and culture. In recognition of this intrinsic connection the humans have with colour as a visual stimulus, the American Museum of Natural History has curated an interactive exhibition, which allows viewers to experience and understand first-hand what the potential of colour really is.
Nature of Colour is curated to celebrate the museum’s 150th anniversary. The exhibition opened on March 9, 2020 and will continue to be on display till August 8, 2021. The exhibition is curated by Rob DeSalle, who is also the curator of American Museum of Natural History’s (AMNH) division of Invertebrate Zoology and is divided into different rooms and foci. The exhibition starts with a room dedicated to the question, ‘What is colour?’. This takes visitors back to the basic physical properties of light and colour, allowing them to “paint” with light with a floor-to-ceiling interactive installation made up of lights, mirrors and filters. This allows for people to see and do while they learn making the experience educational while also being visually engaging.
Museums are places of public access, allowing for individuals of all ages and social groups to experience something novel. The fact that the audience is so wide-ranging at AMNH makes the task of curating an exhibition like this challenging but also a space of abundant opportunity to create an intervention in people’s understanding of a subject, in this case colour. DeSalle organises the experience to approach the idea of colour from different tangents. After laying the groundwork with the first room, he takes the audience further into spaces that encourage the viewer to better understand how colour is deeply embedded into our cultural philosophy as well as our biology. Colours and palettes can evoke emotions from deep within us. How does this happen? Is it because of the way we are socialised? Why do the same colours have vastly different associations in different cultures? Nature of Colour takes the viewer on a deep exploration, encouraging them to look inward and recognise their own physical and emotional responses to colours by using interactive installations to gamify the process. The room dedicated to this process is called ‘Feeling Colour’ and also the ‘Yellow Room’. Similarly, the other green, red and blue rooms are devoted to understanding colour in nature, meaning in colour and making colour.
The exhibition Nature of Colour is explorative in many ways, taking the viewer on an adventure exploring our outward and inward connections with colour. The journey enables the audience to build a deeper and more meaningful relationship with colour using fun activities suitable for anyone to not just be a spectator from afar but fully immerse themselves and gain insight by playing and participating.