ON THE BACK OF AN ELEPHANT

What toys tell us about India

This exhibition of more than 200 toys is essentially composed of an important group of toys made of clay, painted wood, papier mache and sugar

These toys evoke beliefs, events or stories inherited through ancient oral tradition. They tell of the continuity of archaic shapes miraculously conserved right up to the present day in popular art:, the successive usage of the same object for different purposes and the ambiguities which resurface between ritual objects, ex votos and toys.

As a counterpoint in the last section of the exhibition there is a collection of toys from the Colonial period, some made for export, others made outside the country and based on key Indian images such as the tiger hunt for example

Today in India craftsmen still make figurines just like those ancient images, and these continue to be used in rituals before children start playing with them.

It is an important and historic moment – the coexistence in the same country of such figurines with recent recycled toys and the manufactured toys influenced by world demands and tastes will not last. With the accelerated development of modern India the collective memory risks – as has been seen in the West - driving out and forcing into oblivion these humble toys from the past. Or to transform them into tourist tat….

Therefore it is important before it is too late to save them, to appreciate them, to listen to what they have to say. “Let us delight in simple things” wrote Kipling.

The exhibition includes several small films on present-day toymaking in India.

 

Photos Leonid Padrul, Christine Armengaud.

 

 

Images of some of the toys in the collection "on the back of an elephant" in 36 click