An artist and a visual thinker, Matt shifted base from UK to Bengaluru a couple of years ago, and has traveled the sub-continent ever since. His work explores the concept of society, delving deeper into logic and approved constructs. One of his projects include collecting Indian matchboxes. Having collected over 450 matchboxes as souvenirs, from the roadside chai stalls to highway dhabas, Matt believes that ‘the visible scars of the battered boxes tell a story.’ Another project is Macho Men and Flirtatious Women which documents the man-woman equation represented in South Indian cinema via movie posters.
What sparked your interest in collecting Indian matchboxes? When did you begin collecting these? I began collecting Indian matchboxes when I moved from London to Bangalore in 2007. The first one I came across featured an illustration of a killer whale with a caption that read ‘dolphin’. I found this inaccuracy quite amusing – So, my first connection with these matchboxes was that aside from being great designs, they seemed quite random and they made me smile.
Is there a common theme/subject that binds the designs painted on the matchboxes together? The visuals that adorn this collection include historical and religious iconography, Indian pop culture, appropriated western imagery, mundane objects, and various animals. I don’t think there is a common linear theme, however, I think that the disparate meanings and juxtapositions that are present through this series of designs encapsulate quite perfectly the heterogeneous and hybrid visual culture of modern India.
What attracts you to a particular matchbox before you decide to include it into your collection? Most of the designs that I come across add something new to the collection and so there is no particular aesthetic criteria. For me, the attraction is towards the regular matchboxes that can be found on the street; around roadside chai stalls, cigarette kiosks and highway dhabas. I don’t go out of my way to find matchboxes, but stumbling across one that I don’t have in my collection always brightens up my day!
MACHO MEN AND FLIRTATIOUS WOMEN
Tell us a bit about Macho Men and Flirtatious Women? This is an ongoing photographic series that I have been working on over the past couple of years. It features both the local language, hand drawn lithographic film posters, and the larger, glossier offset film posters, which contribute largely to the visual culture and character of the streets of Bangalore. This series explores the roles and relationships of men and women in contemporary Indian cinema through the disjointed, layered and torn fragments that these film posters create.
What prompted you to study the visual relationship shown between men and women in Indian cinema, that too, through poster art? It is an extension of my other projects that explore relationships between representation and reality. My approach to framing has been inspired in part by Jacques Derrida’s book The Truth in Painting, in which he uses Immanuel Kant’s concept of Parergon (ornament) as a basis for deconstructing the ‘supplementary’ and internal/ external role of the image frame.
Ink, Matt Lee/ Smriti Mehra
Macho Men and Flirtatious Women led Matt to join efforts with artist Smriti Mehra and create a short film titled INK for the City One Minutes foundation, Holland. The piece is a silent, objective documentation of the lithographers working at Balaji Lithographers, Bengaluru and how the posters provide an aspirational quotient to their lives.
What else’s in the pipeline? Smriti and I are planning to create a longer film at the lithographic printers. This time we intend to focus on the machine worker’s stories; we were intrigued by the conversations that center around the slow parts of the afternoon, playing cards while waiting for the print plates to arrive. Another project we have in the pipeline is a film on the printers at Shivakasi where the matchboxes and packaging for fireworks are produced._