Bring up the rare
A forthcoming show of rare collectibles, curated by art historian Dilnavaz Mehta, is a lesson on India’s lesser-known stories
By Reema Gehi | PuneMirror
Art historian Dilnavaz Mehta, who has previously curated seven exhibitions of uncommon collectibles tracing India’s splendid history, is in the process of putting together a new edition of Rare Finds – Hindoostan Revisited that will be on view at Cymroza Art Gallery, Bhulabhai Desai Road, Mumbai, from December 3 to 9. “The idea behind displaying them is to spread awareness and educate the public at large about our history,” says Mehta, as she offers a glimpse into her collection comprising prints, old maps, rare books and advertisements (many of them are of companies, products and stores, which used to or continue to exist in the city).
1. VIEW FROM MALABAR HILL, ON THE ISLAND OF BOMBAY, 1834
The coloured engraving by James Forbes shows the town, and harbour of Bombay, connected with Colaba (or Old Woman’s Island). Beyond the harbour and shipping are the Island of Caranjah, and the high land on the continent. The nearer landscape represents Bombay, consisting chiefly of cocoanut woods and rice fields, interspersed with English villas and plantations. In this image, we can also see two bungalows, one, the Retreat, and the other, Tankaville (on the borders of a tank of fresh water) near Malabar Hill. On the right is the Tower of Silence.
2. MADRAS, 1867
British artist William Simpson’s chromolithograph shows the line of customs and port authority buildings located north of Fort St George on the beach. Before the construction of an artificial harbour in the late 19th century, goods and passengers would land on the beach. They were transported through the high running surf by the native masula boats (non rigid craft made of planks lashed together with coir ropes).
3. FESTIVAL OF GODDESS DURGA AT CALCUTTA, 1858
Russian Prince Alexis Soltykoff’s coloured and tinted lithograph depicts Calcutta’s vibrant Durga puja. The idol of the goddess is in a corner and the activities being enacted by the natives are drawn in detail. The artist has depicted musicians and their instruments, the onlookers, the lamps hanging from the ceiling with the swinging fan dominating the picture and the presence of Europeans.
4. MAPS, 1592 (TOP) AND 1715 (BELOW)
On the top is an unusual map, by cartographer Sebastian Munster. The traditional classical world is surrounded by clouds and twelve wind heads; with their Latin names inscribed on banners. The continents have unexpected shapes and are all connected by a great southern continent, Terra Incognito Secundum Ptolemaeum. The map below by bookseller and printer Renard (a suspected spy for the British monarchy in Amsterdam), on the other hand, represents the world as a single sphere seen on a north polar projection. The sphere is held on the shoulders of the Greek mythology hero, Atlas. California is shown as an island and the continent of Australia is not depicted accurately.
5. TATA’S EAU DE COLONGE
The painting shown in the advertisement (1948) is by the modern painter K H Ara. In fact, the fine print of this promotional feature of the eau-de-cologne, popular amongst the Parsi community, reads, “Oil painting by Ara illustrates the charm which the work of this energetic young Indian painter so often displays.”
6. K D & BROTHERS
This advertisement, published in 1921, suggests that K D & Brothers were the biggest film producing concern in India at that time. The advertisement contains publicity portraits of actresses of yore such as Pearl White, Theda Bara, and Corinne Griffith.
7. DUNLOP RUBBER COMPANY (DUNLOP TYRES)
This 1921 advertisement shows a game of polo on probably the Bombay Gymkhana grounds with Mr Dunlop (in a white beard) leaning against a fine car fitted with Dunlop tyres and driven by an Indian.