Pros: Fascinating historical and cultural perspective; amazing artwork
Rating: 5 out of 5
Review book courtesy of Ten Speed Press.
Warren Dotz’s Light of India: A conflagration of Indian matchbox art is a fascinating little gift or coffee table book. It’s attractively packaged inside an elongated box-sleeve that even has a match-strike strip along the bottom.
Light of India starts out exploring the origins of the matchbox industry in India, its practical and cultural place in history. From there it branches into an impressive exploration of the art that adorns Indian matchboxes—starting with those imported from other countries, and progressing through those made in India by Indian artists in later years.
While the images themselves are beautiful and fascinating to look at, every bit as fascinating is the discussion that goes with each section. The images on matchboxes changed with the times, reflecting cultural trends, history, politics, national hopes and fears, and more. What started out for me as a fun look at matchbox art became an engrossing read on Indian cultural heroes, Gandhi’s work, religious beliefs and iconography, and even Indian wildlife, foods, and architecture.
Light of India is a short read, but it’s surprisingly illuminating, beautiful, enchanting, and exotic. In particular it would make a wonderful gift to anyone interested in art and how it relates to history.
Perhaps the words “logical” and “explanation” have no place in this diminutive, colorful world inhabited by blue gods, purple crocodiles, and smoking monkeys. Matchbox labels illustrate a rich, complicated cultural heritage unlike any other. Each one opens a window, albeit a small one, into a world of wonder and whimsy where, almost, anything goes.