Ayurvedic Man: encounters with Indian medicine


16 November 2017 - 8 April 2018

Discover our South Asian collections in this new exhibition tracing the movement of medical knowledge and museum objects across continents and cultures.

‘Ayurvedic Man’ is named after an 18th-century painting from the Wellcome Library that illustrates the organs and vessels of the male body according to classical Ayurveda. Meaning ‘the knowledge of life’, Ayurveda comprises a centuries-old yet ever-evolving set of medical practices that relies on diagnostics and treatments that combine herbal medications, diet and massage. Widely practised today, it has undergone a series of transformations during encounters with biomedicine and the global market of ‘wellness’. These journeys parallel the ongoing reinterpretation and exotification of historical objects from other cultures.

The exhibition showcases an exquisite range of material, including Sanskrit, Persian and Tibetan manuscripts, vibrant gouache paintings, erotic manuals and animal-shaped surgical tools. The displays are framed by newly unearthed correspondence to and from Dr Paira Mall, who was sent to India in 1911 to collect cultural and historical objects for Henry Wellcome’s museum and obtain botanical knowledge. The exhibition includes a new commission by artist Ranjit Kandalgaonkar reimagining events that took place during the Bombay plague epidemic of 1896.

At a time when pluralistic approaches to health are growing in popularity, societies around the world are at increasing risk of losing natural resources, medicinal plants and traditional knowledge. ‘Ayurvedic Man’ highlights the delicate balance between sharing and protecting heritage, cultural resources and environmental biodiversity.

Ranjit Kandalgaonkar’s commission follows from his residency at Gasworks, London, which was supported by the Charles Wallace India Trust and Inlaks Shivdasani Foundation.