January 2016 will see an exciting program of cultural activity across three cities – Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi – all part of Medicine Corner. The program is an initiative of one of the UK’s most innovative cultural venues, Wellcome Collection – part of the Wellcome Trust, a global health charity. Medicine Corner explores India’s rich plurality of cultures, of medicine, healing and well being through exhibitions, live public events and educational outreach.
The centrepiece of Medicine Corner is Tabiyat: Medicine and Healing in India, which opens to the public on 12 January 2016 at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), Mumbai. This exhibition has been produced by Wellcome Collection in collaboration with CSMVS, Mumbai, India, with the support of the British Council. Through a stunning array of antiquities and contemporary material culture, the exhibition explores the history and modern practice in India of sustaining human health. Exhibits include: sculptures, clothing, textiles, decorative wrestling clubs, manuscripts, intimate personal items such as combs and foot scrubbers, medical instruments, domestic utensils, oil paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, meditation plaques and board games (including a snakes and ladders board from the late 18th century – the game has Indian roots).
Tabiyat takes visitors to four generic locations: The Shrine – to encounter the role of spiritual belief in healing; The Home – examining lifecycle and the family as the key transmitter of values and practical knowledge for living well and living long; The Street – charting public health, the hidden histories of health commerce and cultural practices such as chewing paan; and The Clinic – treating India as a key site in world history for enquiry into the nature of body and mind and for different analytical models of understanding, representing and treating the body.
The exhibition takes a multi-faceted approach to its subject, drawing on multiple historical, artistic and ethnographic resources. It includes magnificent Indian works from the UK, never before exhibited in their land of origin, combining them in novel juxtapositions with material from CSMVS and private collections in India. Contemporary vernacular art has also been specially commissioned and acquired for this richly varied show: an aesthetically seductive, intellectually rich mix of art, science, history and the ordinary made extraordinary.
Star exhibits in Tabiyat include the Ayurvedic Man, the only known historical illustration of the interior of the human body as understood in Ayurveda; a lithograph entitled Leprosy. Be Vigilant!; another lithograph ‘Poster warning against the effects of alcohol’; a painting entitled ‘Ascetics preparing and smoking opium’; Colour plates in Hamsasvarupa Maharaj, Satcakranirupanacitra (Some Indian authors attempted to equate the organs depicted in western textbooks with tantric chakras).
A number of public outreach programme will run in conjunction to the exhibition including Making Kohl – Lawyer and journalist Anshika Mishra will discuss the health concerns surrounding kohl in the course of an afternoon long-demonstration of how to make it, conducted by representatives of a manufacturer established for over 200 years; Tea Tasting – will explore the rich culture of tea and its consumption in a guided tasting session with certified Tea Sommelier Snigdha Manchanda of Tea Trunk; Mallakhamb is a martial art tradition of Maharashtra, where gymnasts perform feats around a rope or a vertical wooden pole. Uday Deshpande, a renowned Mallkhamb artiste and trainer, and director of Shree Samantha Vyayam Mandir, will direct the performance. It features his daughter, Aditi Deshpande, national champion on rope Mallakhamb, along with 20 students whose ages range from 6 to 80. The performance will be followed by Q&A on the martial art’s health benefits; Healing Dance – Kathak performance by Debosmita Roy Chowdhury which is in collaboration with the Kala Ghoda Festival; Singing and Indian Medicine – a performance and discussion highlighting vocal care practices in Indian art music; Draupadi Kuravanchi – A Kattaikuttu performance from Tamil Nadu and Anuvab Pal and Patchworks Ensemble – This is in collaboration with Kala Ghoda Festival – stand up comedy and theatrical story-telling; Anuvab Pal will deliver a brand new act. Puja Sarup and Sheena Khalid, who form Patchworks Ensemble, weave together historical and personal stories to make the familiar feel new.
In curatorial dialogue with Tabiyat is an exhibition at Akar Prakar Gallery in Kolkata: Jeevanchakra, curated by Latika Gupta which explores, poetically, the life cycle of the human body and its contact with medical practice. It consists of photographs, video, paintings and multi-media installations by leading contemporary Indian artists namely Gauri Gill, Nilima Sheikh, Sheba Chhachhi, Mithu Sen, Sonia Khurana, Arpita Singh, Srinivasa Prasad, Gargi Raina, Sooni Taraporewala and Paula Sengupta. One of Gauri Gill’s photographs, showing the moment the umbilical cord is severed, is exhibited on a majestic scale at Tabiyat in Mumbai, both to resonate with the sequence shown in Kolkata and as a work in its own right.
In Delhi, the British Council will host a workshop and live performance by BLOT! (a Delhi based mixed media and music performance duo). BLOT! were commissioned by Wellcome Collection to create a video to launch Medicine Corner earlier this year in Chennai. Their research has led to a larger project, Trick or Treat? which uses media arts to examine India’s vast parallel health system of informal practices such as street dentistry. In wry, playful but insightful ways, BLOT! raises momentous issues of access, affordability and equity.
Across these cities and across different cultural forms, Medicine Corner addresses collisions such as those between ancient and modern, formal and informal, Indian and imported. The programme complements the way in which Wellcome Collection uses art and exhibitions in order to draw connections between understanding oneself, one’s civilisation and humanity.
Ratan Vaswani, Project Head Medicine Corner, Curator Tabiyat, commented:
“Wellcome Collection has a magnificent library full not just of manuscripts but also amazing historical paintings and other wonders. Because Wellcome Collection has global interests, it made sense to look at the society and civilisation that has the most varied, complex and plural medical culture – India. We want to have a conversation with India, particularly with its creative community and we want to investigate how ordinary Indians stay well, often in challenging circumstances. But we’re not trying to influence public health outcomes. We want to make a cultural impact and explore the extraordinary in everyday life across a variety of cultural forms.”
Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Director General of CSMVS, commented:
“Tabiyat is a fine exploration of the connected worlds of science and culture. Both the subject and the approach taken in presenting it are new at CSMVS and will, I believe, prove exciting for our growing audience.”