Heaven and Hell in Cumberland Market

11 August 2010

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There was more than food and drink on offer at our Midsummer Picnic this year: a giant game of snakes and ladders for one thing. Eleanor Lanyon writes about how it came about…

This stunning snakes and ladders board above was created by Prick Your Finger, an art knitting duo for this year’s Wellcome Collection Midsummer Picnic in Cumberland Market. It was one of three community arts projects that ran in advance of the picnic, which took place on Saturday 26 June.

The board is roughly eight feet square and made up of canvas squares which were embroidered and decorated by members of our partner organisation, the West Euston Time Bank. Over 50 people took part in the project. The board was inspired by the battle between nutrients – which keep us healthy, and bacteria -which can make us ill. Images from the Wellcome Images collection were used as the basis for the designs on each square.

Snakes and ladders is a modern incarnation of the original Game of Heaven and Hell (Jnana Bagi, also above) developed in India to teach ethics. Each square is labelled with a vice or virtue, as well as a number. Students would rise nearer to heaven through virtues, and fall nearer to hell through vices. The longest ladder reaches from square 17 ‘Compassionate Love’ to 69 ‘The World of the Absolute’. The Wellcome Library has several copies of the original game in its Asian Collection.

Eleanor Lanyon is Library Outreach Officer, and part of the Wellcome Collection Events team.