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In Formation. Future Memoirs of Indian Matchbox labels

India’s independence from the British took place in 1947 after 90 years of being a British colony. Prior to this, it was passed through many hands, resulting in a wide range of cultures that still influence twenty-first century India.

Throughout Indian history, the transformation of imagery and typography has led to a kitschy, contemporary, and transitional visual culture. Such distinctive graphic representations are replicated on the matchboxes as fragments that can be sourced even today. And though this eclectic mix of iconographies relates to the idea of popular culture that captures India’s vast visual vernacular, can it bridge the gap between the ‘colonial past’ and ‘post-colonial present’?

Matchbox designs are often looked on as a device to relive history, and many researchers and historians have investigated the subject to draw conclusions about the past by analyzing the labels. However, for an onlooker, the tiny object serves other purposes. For some, it spawns personal memories and nostalgic feelings through its remarkable designs.

Hence, this research is an attempt to understand the ‘future memory’ of matchbox labels, from a human perspective as well as a machine-based one. With technological advancements, a digital preservation of the labels is a step towards archiving but what will be the next spectrum of design that these matchboxes can generate?

Matchboxes make marvelous collectibles for their analogue designs, but these designs are perishable, so how can they be preserved in analogue form by understanding the transformation pattern that the labels have been through? Will the new designs be influenced by new media of artificial images? And if so, how?

Perhaps, matchboxes will soon be on the verge of extinction due to dramatic fallbacks that the industries are facing with the increase in taxation and inflation throughout the country. Their production has been cut down to minimum units and, thus, preserving these match labels relies on individual collectors and passionate archivers. This leads to a great concern – what will be the future of the Indian matchbox?

Given this curiosity, like that of any other Indian designer based outside his or her native country, there is a constant worry to protect the visual culture of these tiny objects. Thus, the purpose of this research is to gather information on the subject and evaluate the analogue design by speculating about its potential in the digital realm.
Basel, 2022