On exhibit September 9-December 13, 2019
Today across South Asia archives house countless palm-leaf and paper manuscripts. Unique manuscript traditions in each region reveal linguistic, religious, and cultural nuances that, when taken together, reflect the sociocultural diversity of the South Asian region. The present project, Manuscriptistan, is a photographic documentary of India's manuscript archives. Yet, importantly, Manuscriptistan is not a study of the particular knowledge systems contained on the leaves inside the covers of the manuscripts shelved throughout the country. Rather, it is about the aesthetics of archival space in India. It is about the organizational logic used to arrange manuscripts. It is about the Indian manuscript as an artistic artifact that, when captured on film, holds a viewer's gaze because of its delicate yet worn elegance and historic gravity. Finally, Manuscriptistan also offers an ethnographic account of the people who manage the spaces where manuscripts are held, from cataloguers to preservationists, from faculty directors to graduate students studying manuscriptology, and from security guards to maintenance staff.
The photographer, Anthony Cerulli, is an historian of Indian religions and medicine. He teaches at UW–Madison in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures. He has been doing research in manuscript archives in India since 2003, when he first began appreciating the visual appeal and compelling spaces of India’s manuscript cultures.