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Erika Lanner: It helps us tell the story of the life of the Laureate and their work

Aditi Sengupta | Updated on September 20, 2019 Published on September 20, 2019

A noble cause: Erika Lanner, Director of Nobel Prize Museum says the event highlights the contribution of Nobel Laureates to make the world a better place, showcasing discoveries that have saved lives, fed humanity, connected people and protected the planet.   -  THE HINDU / AKHILESH KUMAR

The director of the Nobel Prize Museum that has set up an exhibition in Chandigarh, discusses why it seeks to share the achievements of Nobel Laureates with a global audience

On the unusually hot morning of September 11, in a temporary exhibition hangar at Mohali’s National Agri-Food Biotechnology Institute, a group of school students from Chandigarh crowded around an image of melting ice floes in Iceland. Not far from where they stood, another group huddled around the shocking image of a whale shark about to swallow a plastic bag.

The mood created by the effects of climate change and global warming, as illustrated by the two photographs, was eased up by vignettes of farmers in Sudan benefiting from research in biotechnology and a nomadic woman in the Saharan desert of Morocco using a mobile phone. There were such stories of inspiration from all over the world — of people who wrote, spoke and put their lives in danger in order to save the lives of others.

On display till October 11, For The Greatest Benefit to Humankind is a travelling exhibition brought to Chandigarh by the Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm. It is part of the Nobel Prize Series India 2019 which seeks to share the achievements of Nobel Laureates with a global audience. The exhibition, under an agreement signed in 2016 between the central government’s department of biotechnology and Nobel Media AB, Sweden, was first held in Ahmedabad in 2017. It moved to Goa last year, and will be back in India again next year.

Public interest: On display till October 11, For The Greatest Benefit to Humankind is a travelling exhibition brought to Chandigarh by the Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm   -  ADITI SENGUPTA

 

BLink caught up with Erika Lanner, director of the Nobel Prize Museum, on the day of the inauguration. Excerpts from the interview:

From being a lawyer in Sweden to becoming the director of the Nobel Prize Museum — tell us a little about your journey, your team and this exhibition.

I have been with the Nobel organisation for 13 years. I was chosen to be the director of the Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm in January 2019. This particular exhibition — For The Greatest Benefit to Humankind — was put together in Sweden. The exhibition has two versions. One is for the travelling exhibition; the other will be shown at Stockholm.

There was a lot of pressure on the team because the arrival of the items for the travelling exhibition was delayed by two days. It was supposed to have reached Chandigarh on a Wednesday, but it came on Friday. We lost two days and had to work round-the-clock to get everything ready for the inauguration [on September 11]. It meant a lot less sleep, but I am very happy with the way the team has put everything in place.

Is there anything special for India in this exhibition?

The theme of the exhibition is universal and it is divided into four sections: Feeding Humanity; Saving Lives; Protecting the Planet and Connecting the World. We have highlighted the works of Nobel Laureates — their discoveries, achievements and contributions — under these heads. And because we are in India now, we also have a section on Indians who have won the Nobel; especially Rabindranath Tagore.

What are your biggest concerns for a travelling exhibition? Are you stationed at the venue for the duration of the display?

Transportation time is the biggest worry. It determines the time we get at the venue and delays put a lot of pressure on the team. Another challenge is the local technical support at the destination.We also depend a lot on local guides who can walk the audience through exhibitions. We conduct training for guides at the venue and leave the exhibition in their hands. Our team returns to the spot when it’s time to dismantle.

We also have a permanent exhibition at the Nobel Prize Museum. It’s been running for 12 years now. While working on temporary projects, we look out for details that we think should be added to the permanent show.

Tell us more about the permanent show in Stockholm.

It is organised in a decade-to-decade timeline, encompassing all the Nobel winners. We have an objects gallery — it comprises a small but growing collection of exhibits that have been donated by Nobel Laureates. These are either items of personal use or anything that played a significant role in the achievement of the Laureate. It helps us tell the story of the life of the Laureate and their work. We also have a section on Alfred Nobel.

Which are the most visited sections of the permanent exhibition?

It really depends on the Laureates. Some of them obviously attract more attention than the others. But the sections on Literature and Peace winners are very popular. People also like to visit the section on winners in the sciences and it has been one of our constant challenges to make this one comprehensible — so that anyone without in-depth knowledge of the subject can also enjoy and appreciate the achievements of the Laureates and learn about the evolution of the sciences.

Among the various stories and personalities that you have come across in your role as the director of the Nobel Prize Museum, who or which is your favourite?

I am happy that the story that inspired me the most is also part of this travelling exhibition. It’s the story of Dr Denis Mukwege [winner of the 2018 Peace Prize] from Congo, Africa, who has helped thousands of women who survived sexual violence [through reconstructive surgeries]. I had the pleasure to meet him when he was in Stockholm last year. I was humbled by the knowledge that he had put his own life in danger to help little girls, babies, women — those who had suffered the worst form of violence.

Published on September 20, 2019
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