Matchboxes from the Subcontinent 

Walking around Bangalore city, you come across matchboxes everywhere. Cheap and disposable, these objects litter the highways and footpaths and can often be found scattered around roadside chai stalls and cigarette kiosks. I came across my first matchbox not long after I moved to Bangalore from London in 2007. The label had an illustration of a killer whale with a caption that simply read ‘dolphin’ – to me this seemed quite amusing, so I kept it. Looking back, I think that my first connection with Indian matchboxes was that aside from being great examples of disposable design, the choice of visuals and text seemed quite random and this often made me smile.

Traveling across India I have collected over 750 matchboxes and each design has come to signify a personal memory. Collectively, the visible scars of the battered boxes tell a story, mapping the places I have been and the experiences I have had. The visuals that adorn this collection include historical and religious iconography, Indian pop culture, appropriated western imagery, mundane objects, and many animals. The disparate meanings and juxtapositions created through this series of designs seems to encapsulate perfectly the heterogeneous and hybrid visual culture of modern India.

Articles about this project can be read on Creative Review and The Hindu. In 2012 a selection of these matchboxes were exhibited in 'Collections' at Fictilis Gallery, Seattle, USA.

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© 2019 Matt Lee. All Rights Reserved.

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