Preserving The Histories Of Ancient Indian Artefacts Using Art

Preserving The Histories Of Ancient Indian Artefacts Using Art

Museums, for me, have always been the ultimate mode of storytelling. An old building holding within it objects, each with their own histories, that had managed to transcend time and, somehow, co-exist at the exact same moment as I stood with my palms against the glass division that prevented me from physically reaching for the artefacts. I was always the open-mouthed, awe-inspired kid holding up the queue because she wasn’t done reading the text plate right next to the display. But one thing was obvious, even to my absent-minded self, that not everyone appreciated the little tidbits of information and stories that accompanied the artefacts. Visual commentary had once again taken precedence, and not every narrative was as important as its physical counterpart. But little did I know that I wasn’t the only one.

Sneha Suresh, a 22-year-old visual communicator and printmaker from Goa, who recently graduated from Srishti Institute of Art, Design, and Technology, had a similar stream of thought that led her to document ancient handmade artefacts and the narratives associated with each of them, as a part of her thesis project called ‘Prajne’.

Ookunikantha – part of Mr. Vijay Hagargundgi's collection

While sauntering through the narrow bylanes of Gulbarg, a small town in Karnataka, she came across Mr. Vijay Hagargundgi, a renowned artist and artefact collector who is known for reviving the art of Surpur paintings. During one of her visits to Mr. Hagargundgi’s place, she discovered a metal tool called ‘ookunikantha’ and an even more fascinating tale that went with it. “When an author in the past wanted multiple copies of their work, they would dictate it to a batch of students who would write whatever he was saying on palm leaves. While the students wrote, the trinkets would hit against the tool and make a sound. If the sound that the author heard while all the students wrote what he dictated was not in sync, the author would know that someone has made a mistake.”, explains Sneha.

Lino print illustrations of ookunikantha

From gangala used by the Banjara community to make music while they waited for their food to arrive, to vajri, a 19th century foot scrub that had an iron ball attached so as to keep people away from the vicinity in which women were bathing, Prajne is a collection of untold stories that come alive through Sneha’s colourful lino print illustrations. Each artefact photograph is followed by a series of animated illustrations that visually communicate the utility of the corresponding artefact.

‘Prajne’—which means consciousness in Kannada, seeks to visually reproduce several ancient artefacts of everyday use, along with the narratives that accompany them. However, instead of text, Sneha uses lino print illustrations to give a tangible form to the narratives associated with these artefacts. “The artefacts and narratives are frozen in time and, I feel, lino prints depict just that. Carved blocks and lino prints look like ancient stone tablets and other inscriptions that were used as means of communication back then. The leftover blocks were as much a part of my output as the prints were since the blocks becomes artefacts that tell a story of their own.”, she tells Homegrown.

Sneha Suresh

But Sneha’s efforts to dig up these historical remnants did not end at Mr. Vijay Hagargundgi’s abode. Speaking to several historians, artefact collectors, and older residents of Brahmapur—a 500 year old settlement in Gulbarga—was an integral part of her research process which presented its own challenges, “There were times when a person telling me what the artefact was used for didn’t know what the artefact was called or the other way round. So, naturally, I had to speak to a lot of people and read a lot too in order to stitch together little pieces of information I acquired from different sources.”

Lino print illustrations of Gangala
Vajri – part of Mr. Vijay Hagargundgi's collection
Lino print illustrations of Gaggara (anklet)

Despite being a visual communicator in the 21st century, Sneha’s still draws most of her inspiration from archaic modes of communication that no longer exist today. Which is also why she chose lino printing, an incredibly time-consuming printing method, for her final project. In fact, even her business card is completely handmade and inspired by ancient stone carvings.

You can access Sneha’s thesis project on her Behance profile.

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