Creative urges strike with little warning, particularly when a bunch of art students are killing time. That’s how The Maachis Project came into being: what started off as a college dorm idea between friends has turned into a kitsch art project with a growing Facebook audience.
The project's creators, Aakansha Kukreja, Aakash Doshi and Taarika John, all 24-year-olds, were studying at Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bengaluru when they came up with the idea.
Currently managed by Kukreja and Doshi, The Maachis Project documents Indian matchbox art, known for its frequently incongruous imagery, and revamps it using new graphic design techniques.
"We are doing this because it creatively fulfils our curiosity and keeps alive the bizarre content that someone thought of many many years ago," Kukreja said.
Started in 2014, the project is frequently put on the back burner when the recent graduates have more important work to do. But this never stops them from collecting more matchbox art.
"We’re always looking for inspiration to create new artwork and find meaning in old matchbox art," said Kukreja, who lives in Mumbai and is currently working as a user interface and experience designer at a boutique design studio in the city.
Doshi has always been interested in interesting forms of packaging and labels.
"Our college is based in Karnataka, and all the matchboxes used by people around us always had such interesting, albeit, random artwork that caught our eye," said Doshi, who now works as a freelance filmmaker and visual designer. "As we were introduced to new forms and origins of packaging in class, we started collecting little labels and tins."
The duo were also inspired by one of their college professors, Matt Lee, and his matchbox collection which had over 700 designs.
"This is when the variety and extensiveness of matchbox art really hit us," Doshi said.
The current designs on Maachis Collective's Facebook page are either sourced from their own collections, or collectors off the internet.
"Matt Lee and Shahid Datawala’s collection give us great inspiration to find an artwork to reimagine," said Kukreja. Datawala has collected more than 500 striking Indian matchbox labels for his book titled Matchbook, over the course of several decades.
Asked to explain how they figure out the background and history of the matchboxes, Kukreja said, "We usually look as deep as we can about why there is a particular object or scenario on the front face of a matchbox." She reflected that most of the times, it was very difficult to understand where the thought originated from. "Needless to say, sometimes the authenticity comes from the bizarre and random ideas that manifest into a matchbox label."
And then, a lot of times they find interesting information about the culture through the creatures, beings or art that is used on a matchbox from particular regions. "This fuels the curiosity that drives this project," Doshi explained.
Kukreja said that The Maachis Project's intention right now is to build an open source collaborative community where anyone with the interest and time can contribute their own interpretations and artworks. "We feel we have a long way to go still and the artwork and intention will evolve over time, as we do," she said. "We are looking at creating original artwork and hoping more people come forward with their ideas too."
Most people who have responded positively to their ideas inherently have a love for old, vintage print. But they have also received mixed responses. "Sometimes people think we are diluting the authenticity of the original label," said Kukreja. "However, that is our inspiration and we are in no way claiming to make the artwork better."
Doshi added, "The original will never take precedence over our re-imagined design. We are just having a little fun with the content on it."
The duo also plan to get the matchbox art printed when they have a large enough bank. "We will also try to work out a more environmentally conscious way to print these," added Kukreja.