© 2022 anthony cerulli



Follow developments about Manuscriptistan on Twitter and Instagram

—  —  —  —

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.

©2022 anthony cerulli

About the photographer: Anthony Cerulli is an historian of South Asian religions and medicines. He is Professor of South Asian Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and Director of the Center for South Asia at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. 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 fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, which enabled him to launch Manuscriptistan as a full-fledged art project, and for the past 6-7 years he has been doing photographic fieldwork in India and, since September 2019, exhibiting images from the project.