This map exhibition at Asiatic Library, Mumbai, is for those who want to peep into the past through ancient maps!

If you are a history buff and a travelling enthusiast who wants to check how ancient travellers would travel with maps, this map exhibition at Asiatic Library is where you need to go!

Following the quote by Mark Jenkins that says, “Maps are like cryptic love letters. They make anything seem possible,” the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, supported by the Rotary Club of Bombay has organized a ‘map exhibition’ at the Asiatic library to highlight the 30 conserved rare maps.

Over the last few years, the society and the organization have been working on conserving rare maps from its rich and diverse collection. In an exhibition titled, ‘Meandering Through a Mapped Canvas’, 30 of these conserved gems, for the first time, will be displayed between April 1 to April 30, 2022.

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The exhibition aims to showcase the old maps that were made by the early explorers, travellers, and mapmakers with the limited, indigenous navigational tools, distorted spellings, underdeveloped printing techniques, and factual inaccuracies (as a result of little or no first-hand information).

The Asiatic Society of Mumbai, talking about the exhibition says, “The Asiatic Society of Mumbai is over 200 years old and its collection comprises not only historically important books and documents but also rare and valuable vintage maps. In this phase, 100 maps from the vast and diverse collection of the library were selected for restoration. As custodians of the collection, we are proud to be hosting this exhibition to engage heritage and city enthusiasts. We hope that by showcasing this restoration we can raise funds for continuing the good work.”

This exhibition invites one to explore the visual artistry of mapmakers and their composition of India. Curated to draw attention to maps as works of art, ‘Meandering Through a Mapped Canvas’ evaluates cartographical records in the modern sense of aesthetic design and the older sense of craft and skill.

The conundrums and achievements of a map conservator also come through as one sees changing inks, strokes, materials, and colours. As years advance in the exhibition’s narrative, evolution is seen in terms of map-making techniques, the commissioning powers, the changing lengths, and breadths of the Indian sub-continent (literally or erroneously), and the materiality of maps, which includes original handmade maps as well as prints that were hand-painted or hand-coloured at the time of or after printing.

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Moreover, the colours, engraved strokes, ornamental inscriptions, and minute detailing of physical features, all prodded one to question why there was a need to make maps look attractive. While the older maps feature rather abstract forms of unknown lands, the ones from the later years start giving a linear view of the country, state, or city.

“The maps restored in the duration of this project have challenged us in many ways – from extreme brittleness and fragmentation to staining, losses, water and mould damage. The diverse materiality and conditions of the maps required adapting methods, techniques, and approaches – each map mapped a different conservation story, a series of choices, and multiple processes. Conservation is a very complex field, but it asks a rather simple question: Have we done what it was in our power to do to extend the lifespan of an object? Thanks to the Rotary Club of Bombay and The Asiatic Society – we have. And we hope to see these maps enjoyed by several generations to come,” Conservation Consultant, Amalina Dave said.

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On display, will be a wide range of maps spanning over 300 years. The oldest maps on display will be from the collection date back to 1652. Some of the oldest maps on display will stir amusement with their chaotic spellings and haphazard geography. A map as long as 7 and a half feet, showing one of the 8 sections of Punjab, will amaze all who attend the exhibition viz à viz smaller maps that show a distorted L’Inde (distorted Indian parts that showcase the French possession).

The Bombay showcase will include spectacular samples, including the Plague Map of 1898, 1855 a map showing the Fort of Bombay in 1855 viz à viz another showing the Native Town of Bombay in 1855. Moreover, the delicate and intricate tracing paper maps of the rivers will leave every viewer in awe!

“The Urban Heritage Committee of the Rotary Club of Bombay was formed three years ago as a result of a deep interest in conserving the historical and cultural heritage of the city. One of the first goals undertaken by Rotary’s Urban Heritage Committee was to upgrade the Conservation Laboratory so that rare and irreplaceable archival material could be restored. Age-old maps stored in damp basements found a new home that would protect them from further climatic deterioration,” says the Rotary Club of Bombay.

On the other hand, the exhibition curators from the Past Perfect Heritage Management say, “We have attempted to articulate not only what one sees within each map, but also the journey of this particular collection of maps. As researchers what fascinated us was the emergence of the Idea of India from a vague notion in the 1600s to a more defined landmass by the 1800s. While restoring a diverse collection such as this, several factors have to be kept in mind. As curators, we’ve tried to bring forth the conundrums of restoration that custodians or conservators often face.”

We are excited to visit this map exhibition at Asiatic Library! Are you?

Also Read: Zaveri bazaar in Mumbai: The street that dazzles with gold and not lights!

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