Ayurvedic Man: Encounters with Indian medicine

Wellcome Collection
16 November 2017 – 8 April 2018

Ayurvedic Man: Encounters with Indian medicine © 2017 ART.ZIP

Wellcome’s rich historic collection of South Asian objects takes centre stage in a new exhibition opening in November 2017. Ayurvedic Man: encounters with Indian medicine will feature Sanskrit, Persian and Tibetan manuscripts, vibrant gouache paintings, erotic manuals and animal-shaped surgical tools. These will be shown alongside never-seen-before letters from Wellcome’s archives, which trace the movement of medical knowledge and museum objects across continents and cultures.

The exhibition’s title piece is a unique 18th century Nepalese painting showing the organs and vessels of the male body according to Ayurveda, a centuries-old, but ever evolving, set of medical practices translating to ‘the knowledge of long life’. Further understandings of the human anatomy will be illustrated in a series of vivid diagrams and drawings, including a Persian watercolour linking body parts to zodiac symbols and a Tibetan body map depicting the chakras.

From the corporeal to the cosmological, Ayurvedic Man examines the continuities and ruptures between tradition and modernity. It will reveal newly unearthed correspondence to and from Dr Paira Mall, who was sent to India in 1911 to collect cultural and historical objects for Henry Wellcome’s museum, and local health and botanical knowledge for the potential development of pharmaceutical products. Framing the exhibition, these letters reflect on periods of exchange and collaboration, conflict and exploitation, as well as issues central to the ownership of heritage.

Public health policies of the British colonial administration had a major impact on the development of Indian medicine. Documents relating to the science of smallpox inoculation, engravings of colonial hospital buildings and photographs documenting plague prevention measures outline the tensions between authorities and local communities, empire and colony.

A new commission by artist Ranjit Kandalgaonkar (b.1976), currently in residence at Gasworks, London, will interrogate the responses to the outbreak of plague in Bombay in 1896. The work will comprise a detailed drawing that reimagines the events that took place, along with an interactive digital platform which will allow visitors to zoom into additional material from Wellcome Collection’s Library, London, and the Asiatic Library, Mumbai.

Encounters between colonial and indigenous botanical knowledge will be represented by an edition of the 12 volume Hortus Indicus Malabaricus. Compiled between 1678–1693 by a commander of the Dutch East India Company, this monumental work of taxonomy draws on knowledge from scholarly Brahmins and local physicians, and is still relevant to modern biodiversity. The exhibition will also show drawings of plants used in Ayurvedic healing, including those that led the spice trade explorations such as turmeric and pepper.

Ayurvedic Man will include extracts from one of the foundational texts of Ayurveda, the Susruta Samhita, one of the earliest works of Indian medical literature. This compendium outlines medical procedures including bloodletting and rhinoplasty, or nasal reconstruction, that predate modern surgery, and will be displayed alongside surgical instruments. A range of other practices including enemas, vigorous massage, dietetics and intense yoga postures, will be depicted in a series of colourful Company School paintings. These will be shown with an intricately carved enema syringe from Sri Lanka, emphasising the intimate yet intrusive nature of some of these methods.

The role of gender in Indian medicine is explored through a collection of objects relating to childbirth and family planning, including an early erotic manuscript and a gouache painting depicting the mythological story of a bird recommending a caesarean section. The exhibition will also feature photographs of women doctors and midwives in the early twentieth century, and a letter from Mahatma Gandhi (1935) outlining his opinion on birth control.

At a time of growing popularity of pluralistic approaches to health, societies around the world are at increasing risk of losing natural resources, medicinal plants and traditional knowledge. Ayurvedic Man highlights the delicate balance between sharing and protecting heritage, cultural resources and environmental biodiversity.

Ayurvedic Man: encounters with Indian medicine runs at Wellcome Collection from 16 November 2017 until 8 April 2018. It is curated by Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz, with advice from Sita Reddy. Ranjit Kandalgaonkar’s commission follows his residency at Gasworks, London, supported by Charles Wallace India Trust and Inlaks Shivdasani Foundation. The exhibition is inspired by Wellcome Collection’s Medicine Corner initiative, a series of activities which took place in India in 2016.



從人體到宇宙,本次展覽著重探討了傳統與現代之間的連續和斷裂。其中备受关注的是圍繞著整個展覽、與Paira Mall博士相關的信件,他在1911年被派往印度為亨利·惠康博物館收集文化歷史物品、對藥物發展極富潛力的當地健康和植物學知識,這些難得一見的信件反映了當時交流和合作、衝突和剝削的情況以及遺產所有權的問題。

英國殖民政府的公共衛生政策也對印度醫學的發展有著深遠影響。展覽中與天花接種科學有關的文件、殖民地醫院大樓的版畫以及記錄瘟疫預防措施的照片都顯示出政府和當地社區、帝國和殖民地之間的緊張關係。目前在倫敦Gasworks居住的藝術家Ranjit Kandalgaonkar,受委託根据1896年发生在孟买爆发的大瘟疫创作了一幅错综复杂的素描,伴随这件展品的是互动性十足的细节投影,观众只需轻触投影中的原点即可了解來自惠康圖書館和孟買亞洲圖書館的详细文字与图片。

展覽的另一亮點是作為阿育吠陀的基礎教科書和印度醫學文獻最早著作之一的《Susruta Samhita》,其綱要概述了在現代手術誕生前的放血、隆鼻或鼻部重建等醫療程序,旁邊並置的還有造型奇特的手術器械。觀眾還可以在一系列豐富多彩的東印度公司時期繪畫中看到灌腸、大力度按摩、營養學和高難度瑜伽姿勢。





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