MAP's exhibition on postcards from the past is a revelation of ancient India

MAP's exhibition on postcards from the past is a revelation of ancient India


The Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) is currently hosting an exhibition of over 80 postcards titled Hello and Goodbye: Postcards from the Early 20th Century, showcasing messages from India’s colonial era.

It seems that X (formerly Twitter) doesn't have the right to impose character restrictions. According to Khushi Bansal, who curated Hello & Goodbye along with Meghna Kuppa and a team from MAP, “The messages written on these postcards tell us a lot about life during that time. What is interesting is how abbreviations were used to convey news within a limited space; abbreviations are not a contemporary concept.”

Khushi says Hello & Goodbye was conceived when “we realised we had such a huge collection of postcards at MAP”. A large part of the collection is the nearly 1,300 postcards that Kenneth X and Joyce Robbins donated to MAP.

From the Hello & Goodbye exhibition by MAP

From the Hello & Goodbye exhibition by MAP | Photo credit: special arrangement

However, numbers alone are not enough for an exhibition. The team realised that these postcards provide a lot of information about life at that time, especially cultural identity and living history.

“Some carried messages for their loved ones, others talked about a visit to a small town or a monument. We got an idea of ​​what people abroad were talking about about India, as a lot of these postcards were exchanged either among the Indian elite or among foreigners,” says Meghna.

She adds, “We learn about the cost of living, social norms and much more by browsing these postcards. We get a kind of micro-history in these postcards, which was influenced by colonial activities in India at that time.”

Over six months, the team went through thousands of postcards from their collection and sorted them into categories such as architecture, landscape and more, referring to Omar Khan's books. Paper Jewels: Postcards from the Raj And Picturesque India: A journey through the earliest picture postcards By Sangeeta Mathur and Ratnesh Mathur.

According to Khushi, the team focused on three aspects to structure Hello & Goodbye. “First, we looked at the overall history of the early 20th century. Although postcards were introduced in the late 19th century, we looked at the period during which they were most prevalent,” says Khushi.

The team's work with these postcards revealed interesting aspects of human nature. “During our research, we found that many people write postcards in letter format, resulting in a series of notes that the recipient pieces together to piece the information together,” she says, adding that postcards are similar to the social media of our time, with an image and limited space for text.

These postcards also give the audience the concept of time in today's context. “Postcards were meant for instant and fast communication, but still it took at least two weeks to be delivered, at least in India,” says Meghna.

According to Meghna, postcards from the 1800s only had a small space below the image where the sender could add a note, while the back was used only for the address. It was only in the early 1900s that the design was changed to allocate more space to the back, she says.

An ornate postcard from the Hello and Goodbye exhibition by MAP

An ornate postcard from the Hello & Goodbye exhibition by MAP | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Second, the team began to look at how people using postcards reflected their perception of identity and beliefs. “We looked at the printing press, the print culture that existed at the time and how it came into being. This allowed us to look at the impact it had on colonial identity and culture, as well as our economy and politics.”

Khushi says there was a natural continuation of memory and nostalgia as the final aspect of the exhibition. “After all, a postcard is a message from one person to another, and while most of them were short love messages between family, friends and lovers, they were also used by companies to communicate business-related matters.” For instance, the team found a postcard addressed to Ravi Varma Press in Lonavala about supplies, she says.

postcards present

Although there are about 80 postcards in the exhibition, the team wanted visitors to enjoy the curation process as much as they did. “We have created a small desk within the exhibition itself where people can browse as well as reflect on the messages themselves – this will also help them understand the process of curation,” says Meghna.

“Connecting with the idea of ​​how postcards have revolutionised communication, we wanted to revisit the idea of ​​sending a postcard – whether to a loved one or to yourself. So we set up a small table with yellow postcards from the post office that already had a stamp on them. Visitors who wanted to do so could write a message and if they wrote the right address, we would mail it to them,” says Khushi.

MAP's Digital Stamp

MAP's digital stamp | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

The team at MAP has also created a digital postcard greeting. “This means you can play around with different backgrounds and elements to design your own postcard. Once done, you can scan a QR code to send a greeting card to your friends or family.There will also be a specially designed stamp by MAP and this digital version can be emailed to any recipient,” she adds.

The digital stamp was designed by team member Mahesh KS. “This unique stamp not only commemorates MAP, but also the year marking the event,” says Meghna. “Those who create personalised digital postcards can also give a copy to MAP for their archives if they wish,” she adds.

Hello and Goodbye will be on display at the Museum of Art and Photography until August 18, 2024


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