Wellcome debut in India

Jan 10, 2016, 06:55 IST | Benita Fernando

Objects from Indian medicinal traditions belonging to the collection of a UK charity’s founder, return 'home' in Tabiyat

The blue-on-white 'Daru Sodva' (Quit Alcohol) poster found ubiquitously plastered across the city has more artistic precursors, as it turns out. A 19th century lithograph from Mumbai illustrates the point well with a drunk man beating his wife and children, and a title in Marathi that states, 'The Terrible State of a Drunkard's Home'. This poster is just one of 43 exhibits that have travelled from London to Mumbai to be a part of Tabiyat, an initiative by the Wellcome Collection.

Lithograph (19th c.) warning against alcohol addiction. PIC/Wellcome Library, London
Lithograph (19th c.) warning against alcohol addiction. Pic/Wellcome Library, London

Tabiyat marks the Indian debut of the Collection's vast cultural and artistic resources. “It is this breadth of interest and material that has in part inspired our exhibition. And it is thrilling to be able to display some of Wellcome's Indian collections in their country of origin for the very first time,” says Dr Ken Arnold, Creative Director, Wellcome Trust.

The Wellcome Collection is part of UK-based charity, Wellcome Trust, but is not an unfamiliar name on home turf. Many pre-millennials will recall popping pills that carried the Wellcome logo, or travelling past the Burroughs Wellcome and Company's pharmaceutical factory in Mulund West.

Sir Henry Wellcome
Sir Henry Wellcome

The factory space is now a disputed property, long after Burroughs Wellcome and Company merged with other companies to become the multinational pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline. In the 1990s, Wellcome disinvested from pharma production, and has been at the forefront of bio-medical and drug research, including co-founding the Human Genome Project. In its early years, the company sold the first-ever tablets, coining the term 'tabloid'.

Henry Wellcome, the knighted founder of the company and later the trust, was entrepreneur and collector. When he passed away in 1936, his collection of medical artefacts and artworks rivalled European museums, and today includes Charles Darwin's walking stick, a Chinese torture chair and even mummies from Peru and Egypt. “Henry Wellcome was an entrepreneur and great collector who saw the world through medical eyes.

He travelled widely in India. Consequently, his museum contains a wide range of Indian artefacts — everything from anatomical manuscripts in Sanskrit and Prakrit manuscripts with exquisite miniatures through to photographs depicting 19th century public health,” says Arnold.

Tabiyat will feature Wellcome's 2D objects such as the 18th century Ayurveda Man and miniatures, as well as ad
posters from the 1990s. “Tabiyat has been collaboratively produced by Wellcome Collection and a wide range of Indian academic and professional expertise, particularly with contributions from Mumbai's creative communities,” says Arnold.

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