Science Museum season celebrates global impact of India's scientists and photographers

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Science Museum season celebrates global impact of India's scientists and photographers
70 page Bakhshali manuscript, 224-383 CE © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford.

LONDON.- This autumn the Science Museum presents an international perspective on the remarkable contributions of the Indian subcontinent to global science and culture over the last 5000 years.

Illuminating India is a season of two major exhibitions, specially commissioned artworks and a high-profile events series opening during the British Council’s UK/India 2017 season: a celebration of the long-standing relationship between the UK and India which sees cultural events, exhibitions and activities taking place in both countries. It tells the stories of the Indian innovators and thinkers who have often been overlooked or written out of Western narratives of history.

One exhibition, Illuminating India: 5000 Years of Science and Innovation, celebrates India’s central role in the history of science and technology by exploring its influential contributions to subjects as diverse as space exploration, mathematics, communication and engineering.

As the Survey of India celebrates its 250th anniversary, the Science Museum shares the inspiring stories of scientists, technologists and thinkers, introducing visitors to a strong tradition of scientific thought in India from the ancient past to the present day. Objects on display range from some of the earliest standardised weights originating from the Indus Valley Civilisation in 3000–2500 BCE to a payload developed for launch this year as part of India’s flourishing space programme. Using these objects and the stories of the people behind them, the exhibition explores the country's expertise in observation, calculation and innovation and emphasise the long-standing importance of science in India for understanding the world and creating a better society.

From mathematical genius and autodidact Srinivasa Ramanujan to the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Moumita Dutta, and from scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose to the ordinary people using the lifesaving Embrace Baby Warmer in remote communities, the exhibition shows how the people, geography and culture of India have had a profound impact on global scientific advancement throughout history.

A folio from the Bakhshali Manuscript, on loan from the Bodleian Libraries and thought to show the earliest use of zero as a placeholder in Indian culture before it evolved in the subcontinent into a true number, is the centrepiece of a section showing the country’s pioneering development of influential mathematical ideas including infinity and algorithms.

His Excellency Yashvardhan Kumar Sinha, High Commissioner of India, said: ‘There is a long tradition of science in India that we need to recognise and celebrate and I am very happy that the Science Museum has taken the initiative to bring this to the attention of the rest of the world. I am delighted that the High Commission has joined in this effort for the 2017 Year of India Culture in the UK.’

Another exhibition, Illuminating India: Photography 1857 –2017, is an ambitious and unprecedented survey of the technological and cultural development of the medium in India, examining photography’s changing role in charting the recent history of the country.

This exhibition is the first to trace an arc from the beginnings of photography in India in the mid-19th century to the present day, and pivots around 1857 and 1947: two key dates in India’s recent history.

Looking at those photographers who have been inspired by their own experience of the country, the exhibition explores evocative works from a roster of eminent international practitioners, from India’s first known photographer, Ahmad Ali Khan, to award-winning contemporary photographer Vasantha Yogananthan.

Arriving in India shortly after its invention in Britain in 1839, photography became a powerful tool in the hands of military men and colonial administrators in the drive to document and dominate the people, architecture and landscapes of the subcontinent. Western art history has tended to overlook the Indian photographers working contemporaneously with the first foreigners from the 1850s onwards. This exhibition aims to explore their work afresh in an international context as Indian art photography pioneer Marahaja Ram Singh II is exhibited alongside Samuel Bourne and the country’s first female photojournalist, Homai Vyarawalla, is shown with contemporary Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Drawing on exceptional loans from diverse international collections, some of which are being shown for the first time in the UK, the exhibition offers a visually sumptuous history of photography in India. From the very first fragile salt prints to the latest digital imagery, every iteration of the photographic medium is on display. Photography 1857 –2017 reveals how illuminating a subject India has been for photographers across three centuries: and shows in turn how photography has illuminated India to the viewer, both as place, and as idea.

Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum Group, said: ‘India’s history and culture are built on a rich tradition of scientific thought and innovation. The stories we will be showcasing through this vibrant season not only shaped India but had global significance. By taking a global perspective on the development of science, technology and photography, we hope to engage new audiences and strengthen international relationships between British and Indian scholars and cultural institutions.’

Especially for the Illuminating India season, artist Chila Kumari Burman (whose work is currently on display at the South London Gallery and Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art as part of the exhibition The Place Is Here) has been commissioned by the Science Museum to create a series of artworks responding to the theme of Illuminating India and to the objects and stories in the exhibition 5000 Years of Science and Innovation.

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