Facilitated by Louis Vuitton, an exhibition of India between 1913 and 1921 is on view in New Delhi.
Pictures of Rabindranath Tagore, his son Rathindranath and daughter-in-law Pratima Devi with their adopted daughter Nandini. Of Maharaja Sayaji Rao III of Baroda, Maulana Mohammad Ali, the head of Khilafat Movement, scientist Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose among other well-known names.
Cut to everyday life of India's aam janta and you get stills of Mumbai's Bhishti community, an Afghan guardian of a Muslim tomb in a Scottish cloak and a traditional turban, a Marathi child couple in traditional attire, a veiled cart to carry women passengers, an oil mill driven by a blindfolded ox, and many more.
So what's so important about them? Well, it is the period that these frames belong to —from 1913-21, and that they were not clicked by an Indian but by Albert Kahn, a French banker, an avid traveller, a humanist and above all, a philanthropist.
These photographs are brought to New Delhi as a retrospective show on India, “Planet of the Archives”, now on view at the National Gallery of Modern Art. The exhibition brings an exceptional collection of black and white films and the first collection in the world of colour photographs on glass plates and auto chromes, portraits, life scenes and architecture.
These photographs are a result of Kahn's “commissioned and collected works” brought from the conserved collections kept in the former residence of Kahn. Kahn received many Indian personalities in his house at Boulogne-Billancourt adorned with beautiful gardens. The exhibition has a few photographs of Tagore posing in one of these gardens. Also, a film on the meeting of Kahn and Tagore's family is being screened at the NGMA for the duration of the exhibition.
The collection also includes a few wardrobes made by Louis Vuitton such as the one ordered by the Maharaja of Kapurthala in 1910 and a trunk made by the company in 1929 for photographic equipments and accessories.
So what has Louis Vuitton got to do with the exhibition? It is its connection with India that dates back to the early 19th Century. Louis Vuitton started as a trunk maker. The Maharajahs were among his most loyal customers and placed many special orders. Some of these are exhibited at the Musée Louis Vuitton in Asnières, such as the elegant tea case belonging to the Maharajah of Baroda, created in 1926.
Rajeev Lochan, director, NGMA, asks an important question, “The show is picturesque as well as a social anthropology. Why hasn't this country maintained its historical or cultural records?”
The exhibition concludes on January 31, 2010.