The India Collection

I’m always curious about any art works that deal with India and the South Asian subcontinent. It’s an area that is so rich and vast and is what really sparked my interest in art in general. Suffice to say, I was more than eager to visit the Natural History Museum when I found out that a temporary exhibition of botanical and zoological art work from the subcontinent was on display.

After getting my bearings right and trawling through masses of school children I eventually found the quiet corner where The India Collection was housed. Claiming to be one of the largest archived artworks from a single country to be within the NHM, the collection was made by doctors and botanists who first arrived in India in the 18th and 19th Century.

Source NHM website

The collection largely helped the East India Company to ‘manage nature’ by classifying animals and taking surveys of the land. It also contributed to discovering medical and economical benefits of the natural world. The display demonstrates the changing relationship with land and combined local knowledge with scientific methods. Whilst this proved to be an educational insight into the the glories of the British Raj what I found particularly fascinated by was the inclusion of modern work by artist Sunoj D.

It was refreshing to have modern work juxtaposed alongside the typical colonial artifacts one might find within a museum. Sunoj D’s installation piece ‘Somewhere Between Living and Dying’, a giant scroll with detailed drawings, can be seen as the legacy left behind from the East India Company to champion the marvels of the natural world from India. More than 100 contributors, from different professions and castes, helped to document the 742 medical plants in Kerela – resulting in the installation piece. The only downfall I found to the displays were aesthetically, the lighting could have been better in the room. Although, for technical reasons, not to damage the pigment in old books and images, it is understandable why the room remained barely visible.

“The artwork is a comment on our relationship with soil in urban environments and in The Natural History Museum everything exists yet nothing lives” Sunoj D.

Sunoj D – Somewhere Between Living & Dying. Source: Authors own image


Botanical studies. Source: Author’s own image.

The temporary exhibition is running until the end of May 2013 and admission is free. For more information about The India Collection go here

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