Vintage Assam

Preserving Heritage through Photographs. The wall installation in the Library Hall depicts historical legacies and stories linked to the region along the River Brahmaputra, through rare old photographs.

In the year 1905, Sir Edward Gait, who wrote the path-breaking work, A History Of Assam, lamented the fact that “…there is probably no part of India regarding whose past, less is generally known. In the histories of India, as a whole, Assam is barely mentioned." More than hundred years have passed since then but Gait's observations on the invisibility of Assam in standard historiography remain true as ever.

The region has often been excluded by the mainstream intellectuals from the area of their history writing while several events from its medieval and modern past should have been specific case studies. It has remained the benighted Cinderella province, of which renowned parliamentarian, the Late Hem Barua once wrote, "Assam is mentally a distant horizon like Bolivia or Peru, less known and more fancied." This has led many to view the region through narrow lenses without being initiated to the enormous sociocultural transformation that its multi-ethnic, polyphonic society has undergone throughout its history. Several stereotypes and misconceptions about the region have also arisen as a result. In the minds of many people, it is still no more than "a land of mountains; barbaric people, malaria; earthquakes; floods; and of course tea. To others, it is a kingdom of a lush jungle where venomous snakes and lethal spiders; stealthy tigers; sinuous leopards; wild elephants; and the great one-horned rhinoceros peep and peer with menacing intent." Moreover, it continues to be projected as a troubled region due to the incessant violence that it has faced over the last few decades.

Preserving Heritage
through Photographs

Vintage Assam attempts to challenge this dominant narrative and the prevalent stereotypes by reconstructing the modern history of Assam and revealing little-known facets of the region that has so far escaped the attention of mainstream historiography. It acts as a window into the enormous socio-economic and political changes that not only changed the entire landscape of the region but also had its bearing on the mainland.

Assam's modern history is not represented in this gallery in a specific narrative formula but rather as a collection of images, oral testimonies, artifacts, advertisements, quotes and letters.

Curated by Avinibesh Sharma (Project Head, Vintage Assam)