Inter-Archives Conversations #2 | Ephemera as the Archive’s Conundrum

Inter-Archives Conversations is a platform initiated by Asia Art Archive in India in conjunction with partnering institutions to facilitate interactions between art and cultural archives in the South Asia region. By engaging organisations, institutions, and individuals, this series explores forms, infrastructures, and the instituting of archives in the region, ensuring that less visible and more diverse histories, in particular those neglected by state institutions, are documented and made accessible to publics.

Organised in conjunction with Mobile Library: Nepal, the first set of programmes are hosted in collaboration with university archives, art and photography archives, libraries, and documentation centres in Nepal. These will take Nepal as a point of departure and South Asia as the context of discussion, with case studies from within and beyond South Asia.

Developed in collaboration with Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya (MPP) in Kathmandu, the second conversation in this series focuses on ephemeral print materials in archives. By definition, materials referred to as ephemera are transient and meant to be in limited circulation for short periods; they are specifically tailor-made for an event in form and content, and tend to be fragile and easy to discard. This session brings together archivists from Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya in Kathmandu, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC), and Queer Archive for Memory, Reflection and Activism (QAMRA) in Bangalore to discuss how they define, categorise, and preserve the slippery materials that are defined as ephemera, and how they enable alternative constructions of history.

Deepak Aryal and Shamik Mishra (Kathmandu, Nepal), researchers and archivists at Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya, explore the archive’s Nepali-language ephemera collection, and how it records everyday events in Nepal’s recent history. Ritwika Misra (Kolkata, India), previously a researcher at the archive of Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, discusses how the ephemera in their collection underscores the thriving commercial art and advertising scene in Kolkata in the twentieth century. Siddarth S. Ganesh (Bangalore, India), researcher at Queer Archive for Memory, Reflection and Activism, looks at the personal ephemera of intimate memories surrounding the evolution of queer activism in Bangalore within the larger context of the LGBTQ+ movement in India.

This conversation draws from the queries and concerns of archivists at the Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya, which is the principal archive of books, periodicals, ephemera, and related collections in the Nepali language, with both physical and digital infrastructure. Founded by the late Kamal Mani Dixit, the Kathmandu-based MPP is the only archive in Nepal that collects and preserves ephemera. The archive contains around 16,000 documents categorised as ephemera that range across political, social, and cultural domains—from a 1910 advertorial documenting Nepali-language programmes that adapted Shakespeare, to notices and pamphlets from the turbulent political climates in Nepal in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. These varied materials, despite having been overlooked by scholars and researchers, provide glimpses of history from the perspective of the daily lived experiences of citizens, and have shaped the wider public sphere of the country.

 

Free and open to public with registration. 

 

An online closed-door session will be held on Thursday, 29 July 2021, at 5:00pm NPT (7:15pm HKT), for independent arts initiatives and organisations from India and Nepal. This session will host Elaine Lin, Head of Collections at Asia Art Archive, who will discuss the materials and processes behind Independent Initiative Files at AAA. Researchers Avani Tandon Vieira, Sumedha Chakravarthy, and Manasvini Rajan of The Museum of Ephemera will also speak about their efforts in creating a digital archive of ephemeral forms from the city of Mumbai. Those working with independent arts organisations and initiatives, and who are interested in joining this closed-door session, please write to samira@aaa.org.hk for registration.

 

Elaine Lin is Head of Collections at AAA, Hong Kong, and leads the Independent Initiatives Files (IIF) project, which is comprised of ephemera with a focus on independent initiatives, and covers both art spaces and happenings. It is premised on the understanding that many independent initiatives publish scarcely and with limited circulation.

Ritwika Misra was Assistant Archivist (2016–20) at the Visual Archive of Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta (CSSSC), which hosts a body of pictorial and photographic genres from Bengal from the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century. The archive is a composite collection of texts and images that seeks to create a new repository of sources on the cultural history of modern Bengal. She was part of the archive team for the exhibition The Art of Painted Postcard: Nandalal Bose & His Contemporaries, hosted online in collaboration with Victoria Memorial Hall, Delhi Art Gallery, and Jadunath Bhavan Museum & Resource Centre in December 2020. She was also part of the curatorial team for the exhibitions Accessing the Archive (2016) and City in the Archive (2017). She has an MPhil in Social Sciences from CSSSC, and a BA and MA in history from Jadavpur University, Kolkata.

Siddarth S. Ganesh is a queer historian based in Bangalore. They have been involved with cataloguing, transcribing, and translating material at the Queer Archive of Memory, Reflection and Activism (QAMRA). QAMRA is a flagship project of the Archive Memory and Education Trust (AME). It is a physical multimedia archival effort which aims to chronicle the genesis and growth of the struggle for the rights of sexuality and gender minorities in India. QAMRA’s objective is to bring together and provide access to the stories of individuals, communities, organisations, lawyers, and activists that have lived through and played a part in the queer rights movement of the last few decades. QAMRA found its initial momentum in the sustained work of documentary filmmaker T. Jayashree and her repository of unedited footage from meetings, protest archives, and Pride parades gathered over close to twenty years of filming. At present, QAMRA is in its pilot stage and has a limited storage capacity, as well as minimal storage infrastructure.

The Museum of Ephemera is a digital archive of ephemeral forms from the city of Bombay. The project recognises the potential of transitory materials to unsettle received histories of the city and conventional approaches to recording and remembering. The primary “objects” in the museum are posters, pamphlets, manifestos, slogans, songs, and photographs. The museum takes two political moments as its focus—the mill workers’ strike between 1981 and 1983, and the anti-CAA protests of 2019. This exploration is structured in two sections—Archive and Literature—looking at not only the materials themselves but the larger conversation that these materials allow. By placing these moments alongside each other, the museum teases out parallels and resonances that illustrate the politics of these forms. The co-founders for the project are researchers Avani Tandon Vieira, Manasvini Rajan, and Sumedha Chakravarthy.


Moderator:
Noopur Desai, Researcher, Asia Art Archive in India 

This event is part of Mobile Library: Nepal, supported by the Foundation for Arts Initiatives.

 

AAA relies on your generous support to grow, activate, and make freely accessible our collection of materials on art in Asia. Please consider making a small donation to our 2021 Annual Fundraiser, ending on 29 Oct.