ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

(Re)Creating the Authentic: The Many Lives of the Sanchi Gateways in Berlin Museums


Singh Parul - Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, 4A_Lab, Berlin, Germany


12 – South Asian Collections in European Museums: Examining their acquisition, display, and futures


 The first casts of the Sanchi Stupa gateway in India were made in the 19th century under the British colonial regime and collected by various museums in Europe, including Berlin. While all these other casts were subsequently discarded, the Berlin Cast (1886) not only survived but gained new avatars- cast stone (1970) and milled sandstone (2022). Through each new material (re)formulation it shed a little of its “cast” status and became closer to the “authentic” in situ at Sanchi. Tracing the biographies of these replicas, our paper investigates the symbolic and socio-political processes, which have given prominence to their continued reproduction and display at various locales in Berlin, including the Humboldt Forum. It explores how these objects are intertwined in a web of actants and narratives and mobilised as “curatorial things” through their aesthetic, semantic and socio-political contexts. In their display-habitats the objects are charged by their spatial configurations and their dialogical interactions with other objects as well as their “original” context. Exploring these multilayered entanglements, the paper further examines these casts and replicas beyond the binaries of the authentic/ inauthentic, or their closure as mere “archives” that produce a static, reproducible “truth” of the lingering colonial past. It suggests that the replicas have acquired a force of their own, secreting “excess” of meanings, more than which was consciously inscribed in them.