On the subversive joy of postcards
plus, sending out feelers for the Kindred Spirits Postcard Project
I’m soft-launching a hopeful little project that’s very much in line with this week’s edition and the overall theme of my newsletter: the Kindred Spirits Postcard Project. More info at the end of the essay!
I often tell people I meet that I’m a self-proclaimed protector of the dying arts. Almost every weekend, I become obsessed with a ‘new’ old art — most recently, it has been postcards.
The story of the postcard is the story of evolution. It wasn’t invented, or a product of a Eureka moment in some letter writer’s bathtub. It began as a humble drawing in the corner of someone’s letter, then took up more and more space until it became a category of its own. They became an art form in their own right, made for a particular purpose long before we began to find them en masse in tourist shops.
What particularly enchants me about the humble postcard is how it represents subversive art and communication. It was an outlet for political expression in the face of the art world’s suffocating elitism. Women artists, in particular, bypassed the traditional galleries that excluded their works by using “mail art” to reach elusive audiences. In many cases, it became the only living record of an artist’s work or thought process. If you look at the ones that survived the passage of time, you can see glimpses both into their creative inner world and out through the artist’s own eyes. Their postcards were at once outlet and outline, complete pieces on their own and markers of bigger ideas to come.
You’d think an empty square of blank paper would be easy to fill, but writing a good postcard is not easy. There are only a handful of words to rearrange and make meaningful, and so my writing starts off expansive and decreases to a tiny font as space diminishes, afterthoughts marching up the edges like ants on a mission.
It’s nothing like Japanese conceptual artist On Kawara’s picture postcards sent every single day from different parts of the world to two different friends each time. He put only three words on each postcard — “I GOT UP” — then noted the time, date and location. This, to me, is a step above saying “I am here”. It is a quietly triumphant reassurance of his existence, a simple but profound “I am”.
There’s nothing like a postcard, smelling of a faraway place and scrawled all over with spur-of-the-moment words, to validate existence. Postcards inhabit a wonderfully liminal space in correspondence: they’re at once intimate and public, their audience larger than the two people on either end of the delivery trail.
Despite their overwhelming presence in tourist shops, each postcard is one of a kind. Each is bent a certain way, stamped a certain way, stained a certain way. Each bears singular traces of humans in the chain that are little more than ghosts to the recipient.
Even the history of a single postcard is one of evolution: It starts off as a souvenir but becomes a marker of human presence in a day and age where one can delete years of messages with a touch of a button.
When you hold a well-travelled postcard in your hand, you’re overwhelmed by the sense that there’s only one version of this paper rectangle in the world. It was destined to be in only one mailbox: yours.
Would you like a postcard?
When you sign up for the Kindred Spirits Postcard Project, you’ll receive one special postcard with a personal message, a poem, or an illustration.
I want to give those who haven’t received postcards in a while (or ever) a chance to experience this wonderful interruption to otherwise stale days. In that spirit, this is open to anyone anywhere in the world (India Post delivery restrictions apply).
To cover the costs of material and postage, I charge a nominal fee of INR 100 ✨ please note that making this payment means you accept the risks associated with sending snail mail (in particular, that mail can be lost or can go missing).
If you’d like to participate, please fill in this form or click the button below. Your address will be safe with me and won’t be auctioned off or leaked or anything.
Once done, you’ll get an email with the link to the payment page (please use the same email ID you used to register while making the payment).
Then all you need to do is keep watching your postbox! 📮 I’m excited to get this little project off the ground.