The Museum Of Material Memories: An Archive Of Timeless Family Heirlooms

The Museum Of Material Memories: An Archive Of Timeless Family Heirlooms
The Museum Of Material Memories

Things of the past possess a strange quality. Something about them feels significantly distant, yet sometimes they can feel ever-so-familiar. Often times we wonder, is this its timelessness more cherishable than the object itself?

An heirloom becomes so much more than just an ordinary object after seeing generations’ worth of memories and experiences that gradually get enveloped in the pages of history. Writer Aanchal Malhotra and Navdha Malhotra recognised this poignant aspect of such objects, and in 2017, began The Museum of Material Memory. Considered to be a ‘digital repository of material culture of the Indian subcontinent, tracing family histories and social ethnography through heirlooms, collectibles and objects of antiquity’, the archive invites people to submit their own heirlooms accompanied by their stories.

The archive records materials from 1970s or before, and is the perfect example of how storytelling makes the journey of these objects relevant even today. Appreciation of such objects can sometimes be limited to the time in history when it was in use, or within the family or community that it is a part of. The Museum of Material Memories is a platform that makes use of its capacity to share those wonderful stories with many more outside the concerned community. As timeless as they are, these special objects deserve to be known for not just what their physical aspects are able to tell us — the tale of each crevice, the account of how the colour faded, the recital of its origin, and the story of what it came to mean to its owner.

Late English author, Elizabeth Aston in her book Mr. Darcy’s Daughter (2003) quite aptly wrote, “Anyone may have diamonds: an heirloom is an ornament of quite a different kind.” While we don’t deny the possibility of diamonds being family heirloom, she hits the nail on the head with the latter half. Heirlooms are not your typical ornaments — what once may have been used to beautify a certain setting cannot be compared to a perennial source of stories laced with real human encounters.

The Museum of Material Memories exposes us to the most beautiful and heartfelt stories of people and their tryst with their family heirlooms. The archive includes photographs, documents, jewellery and many more trinkets.

One such collection that stands out to us is that of Samriddhi Roy’s ‘My Nani’s Paijeb’. She narrates the tale of her great-great-grandmother’s paijeb (anklets) and how it made its way down to her. It accounts for each of her grandmother’s and her mother’s life events, and how the paijeb was there not only to witness them, but partake in their special moments. Samriddhi also mentions her own experience — she got the chance of wearing the paijeb that has been in her family for over 160 years for her graduation.

Aanchal Malhotra, co-founder of The Museum of Material Memories, in her book Remnants of A Separation: History of the Partition through Material Memory (2017) writes, “Memorialisation is not a passive practice but an active conversation.”

The archive seems to be the perfect platform to take forward the ‘active conversation’ she talks about. How else would we be able to memorialise anything, if there wasn’t anyone to continue doing so in the first place?

You can visit their website here, or view the collection on their Instagram.

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