Broom exhibition in Rajasthan elevates the seemingly insignificant

August 2009 -

At the Arna-Jharna Desert Museum of Rajasthan, located outside Jodhpur, a three-year exhibit is dedicated to an unlikely object: the broom. When the museum's founder and Prins Claus laureate, the late Komal Kothari, first envisioned the project he was inspired to celebrate the traditional knowledge systems of Rajasthani culture. The broom holds immense social, cultural and economic importance.


(c) Arna-Jharna: The Desert Museum of Rajasthan

As the Museum's Conceptual Advisor Rustom Bharucha explains, in the state of Rajasthan the professional broom-makers come from the lower castes, including the Banjara, Koli and Harijan ('Dalit') people. "Over centuries this relationship between low-caste degradation and garbage removal continues to be relegated to the lowest of caste groups," says Bharucha. The broom exhibit is careful to not romanticize these marginalized communities. As Bharucha points out: "Our social function as a museum is in terms of making the inaudible audible; making the invisible visible…we are serious about calling attention to their practice and predicament."

The project involved extensive interviews with both professional and non-professional broom-makers. These discussions include video recordings, which help contribute to a broader understanding of the more implicit and symbolic significance of the broom. Bharucha: "The broom can be linked to degradation, but on the other hand, it can be seen as a weapon of protest. It is at once pure and impure, an implement by which to get rid of skin-diseases in rituals of cleansing as well as the very embodiment of the Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth."

The hundreds of brooms on display showcase the variety of aesthetic possibilities. Each broom is a reflection of its natural environment. Eco-materials such as date -palm, grass and bamboo are weaved together using toes and teeth to produce what Bharucha calls "sculpturesque shapes and totally minimalist, but astonishing beauty".

"We need to evolve a new language of aesthetic to deal with the 'beauty' of the broom, and perhaps, the very word 'beauty' needs to be re-named if not reconceptualized to incorporate the economy and resilience of rudimentary form. This is the 'beauty' of what tends to be taken for granted, but in whose absence the world would be a poorer place."