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Sparks of creativity

The designs on these matchboxes - usually designed by anonymous artists - can offer glimpses of a country's history and culture.

Published: 29th December 2021 08:20 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th December 2021 08:20 AM   |  A+A-

A matchbox from Shreya Katuri's collection

A matchbox from Shreya Katuri's collection. (Photo| Instagram)

Express News Service

Sold for a meagre sum, the matchbox may seem like a regular household object to many. However, Shreya Katuri (28) identifies these as miniatures packed with symbolism. The designs on these matchboxes - usually designed by anonymous artists - can offer glimpses of a country's history and culture.

"Each matchbox holds a story; the fun is in dissecting the symbols on the box, and understanding the design," says Katuri. A professional at a design firm in Toronto - she moved to Canada from Delhi this year - Katuri started collecting matchboxes in 2013.  

Passion for the box

Katuri reveals that working on her undergraduate dissertation inadvertently sparked her interest in matchboxes. Looking at them as part of popular culture, she studied matchboxes to deconstruct concepts of religion and gender in India.

Over time, this project turned into a hobby for her. Shedding light on how women are represented, Katuri shares, "Women are mostly shown as homemakers on these [objects]. None of the labels I have women portrayed as having a job. As a vintage packaging product, matchboxes could serve as a great way to read into our history and culture."

A glimpse of society

Katuri's current collection, which she highlights through her Instagram page 'Art on a Box', features around 5,000 boxes of Indian and international brands. "I find these in paan shops, in vintage markets, etc," she says. Each box discovered by her is usually studied at great length so as to decode labels and design language.

On her Instagram page, you will find a host of colourful labels starting from common brands like Ship and Cats as well as other unknown brands. There are also boxes with obscure motifs such as cartoon characters or inspirational quotes.

"One of the most interesting ones that I found was a pre-independence label that was passed on to me by a friend from her grandfather's collection." With the words 'Flying Rani' stamped on it, this label is "a representation of the Gaumata or the mother of cows, a divine deity".

Explaining via her social media post, she adds: "This reinstates the finding of how the dominant narrative of Hindu icons and symbols on matchboxes has been prevalent from the start."

"Biased towards Indian matchboxes", from her collection, Katuri shares, "I have matchboxes with Chhota Bheem or the Tata Nano car on them." Discussing the gradual artwork changes on matchboxes, she concludes, "Their designs have changed since the pre-independence movement days, and one can actually read so much through how the design has evolved."



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