© 2020 anthony cerulli

An article about Manuscriptistan recently appeared in South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 43(3) 2020, “Archival Aesthetics: Framing and Exhibiting Indian Manuscripts and Manuscript Libraries

Four images from The Manuscriptistan Project recently hung in a juried group exhibit at the Chazen Museum of Art,  Madison, WI, Feb-May 2020.

Check out an article about Manuscriptistan in the Daily Pennsylvanian, by Shriya Karam: “New Van Pelt Library exhibit highlights aesthetics of Indian manuscripts”

Learn about the exhibit at UPenn’s Kamin Gallery, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts, Sept-Dec 2019.

Two images from The Manuscriptistan Project appeared in the photography journal, Light (issue 8, Fall 2018).

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Follow developments about Manuscriptistan on Twitter and Instagram

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©2020 anthony cerulli

Exhibition Statement

Manuscriptistan is a photography exhibit of palm-leaf and paper manuscript collections and libraries in India.  It asks the question: What becomes of the archive, when the archive becomes art?  The project is not a study of the subjects of manuscripts, which scholars have mined for centuries to explain and reconstruct Indian history. Instead, Manuscriptistan uses photography to probe the aesthetics of the Indian manuscript and India’s library spaces. The exhibit explores India’s centuries-old manuscript cultures by treating the manuscript and library space as evocative artifact and space as such, apart from the cultural import of their contents. It also shows people who manage the spaces where manuscripts are held, people whose livelihoods are connected to the archives, such as cataloguers and preservationists, university teachers and students, security guards, and maintenance staff.

The National Mission for Manuscripts in New Delhi estimates that India is home to seven million manuscripts.  Scholars propose a much larger figure, as high as 30 million.  The title of this project uses the Persian suffix –stan, meaning “place of” or “country,” to signal the millennia of writing and print cultures in India. Hence, Manuscriptistan offers a lens through which to see India as a “place of manuscripts” or “manuscript country.” The obverse perspective, however, is also imaginable: Manuscriptistan could be contained within each library, suggesting that the title of this project points to the manuscript library—a place of manuscripts—as a method with which to wrestle and make sense of the history of writing and book cultures in India before typography and, in this project, to query the aesthetic associations between functionality, context, and art objects.

About the photographer: Anthony Cerulli is an historian of Indian religions and medicines. He teaches at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and he is currently the Director of UW–Madison’s Center for South Asia. He has been doing research with manuscripts in India since 2003. This project began informally around that time and developed over the years in response to manuscript digitization projects in India.  In 2015, Anthony was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship that enabled him to launch The Manuscriptistan Project as an art project, and for the past five years he has been doing photographic fieldwork in India and, since September 2019, he has been exhibiting images from the project.