Matchboxes from the subcontinent

Matt Lee shares some specimens from his collection of over 250 Indian matchboxes

Walking around Bangalore city where I live you come across matchboxes everywhere. Cheap and disposable, they litter the highways and footpaths, often to be found scattered around any road­side chai stall, cigarette kiosk or dhaba.

The first one I came across featured an illustration of a killer whale with a caption that read ‘dolphin’. I found this inaccuracy quite amusing. Aside from being great designs, these match-boxes seemed quite random and made me smile.

In my travels across India I have collected over 250 matchboxes. Each design has come to signify a personal memory. Collectively, the visible scars of the battered boxes tell a story; mapping the places I have been and the experiences I have had.

The visuals that adorn this collec­­tion include historical and religious iconography, Indian pop culture, appropriated western imagery, mundane objects, and various animals. As an outsider, the disparate juxta-positions created through this series of designs have come to encapsulate quite perfectly the heterogeneous and hybrid visual culture of modern India.

Matt Lee
Matt Lee is an illustrator from London. He has lived in Bangalore since 2007 where he is a member of faculty at Srishti School of Art, Design & Technology.
The full matchbox collec­tion can be viewed online at

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