Picture perfect: Tour British-era India through a postcard exhibition
They showcased India to the world, celebrated everyday life and passed on coded love messages.
Hundreds of picture postcards from the late 1800s and early 1900s now feature in two exhibitions set to open at the Bhau Daji Lad museum on Sunday.
In Paper Jewels: Postcards from the Raj, you can expect to see cityscapes of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta, and women characters like Shakuntala and Damayanti printed by the Ravi Varma Press set up near Mumbai in the 1890s. Some of the earliest postcards from India will also be on display, including an 1892 set advertising Singer sewing machines.
The second show highlights works by the late Mumbai master MV Dhurandhar, including a painting of Shivaji’s coronation and portraits of couples from different city communities – Parsi, Khoja, Pathare Prabhu.
“It’s only now that postcards are being recognised as great art forms and a window into the past,” says San Francisco-based historian Omar Khan, who has been collecting postcards for three decades and has curated the exhibition. “Postcards heralded open communication, where anyone could read your messages. So many people used the stamp’s placement as a sort of code. Placing an upside-down stamp, for instance, could mean ‘I love you’.”
The show, co-curated by Rahaab Allana, also includes exhibits from the Alkazi Collection of Photography.
The exhibition MV Dhurandhar: The Artist as Chronicler (1867-1944) celebrates the 151st birth anniversary of the artist, who studied at the JJ School of Art and became its first Indian director. It has been co-curated by Himanshu Kadam and Tasneem Mehta.
“We’ve been talking about putting together such an exhibition for eight years. Dhurandhar has largely stayed in the shadow of Ravi Varma and has failed to get the recognition he deserves,” Mehta says. “In the coronation scene, he painted 95 figures. Each is distinct, with distinct headgear to represent the diversity of communities. This was the kind of eye for detail that Dhurandhar had,” Kadam adds.
A larger retrospective on the artist, Mehta says, is also on the cards at the NGMA.