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

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

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

Images 04 and 15 (below) from The Manuscriptistan Project recently appeared in the photography journal, Light (issue 8, Fall 2018).

Follow developments about Manuscriptistan on Twitter

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Exhibition Statement: The Manuscriptistan Project

Manuscriptistan is a photography exhibit of palm-leaf and paper manuscript collections and archives 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 archival spaces. The exhibit explores India’s centuries-old manuscript cultures by treating the manuscript and archival space as evocative artifacts and spaces 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 photographer, Anthony Cerulli, is an historian of Indian religions and medicine. He teaches at UW–Madison in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures. He has been doing research in manuscript archives in India since 2003, when he first began appreciating the visual appeal and compelling spaces of India’s manuscript cultures. This project began informally years ago in response to a government-supported program in India to digitize many of its manuscript collections. This nationwide undertaking helpfully preserves the data and ideas conveyed in these important cultural works in databases, but it does so at the expense of decontextualizing the manuscript reader’s physical engagement with these human-made artifacts and the unique spaces in which they have been collected and organized. In 2015, Anthony was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to launch Manuscriptistan as a formal art project, and for the past three years the award has supported his photographic efforts to document visually manuscripts cultures across north and south India.

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