- Museum number
Paper cup advertising Air India.
On the base:
POLARCUP VP100 MADE IN FINLAND
printed in red upper case alphanumeric characters, just inside the rim. Polarcup is a Finnish company now with factories in other countries (including Russia) but at the time probably manufactured only in Finland itself.
- Production date
Diameter: 6 centimetres
Height: 6.50 centimetres
Weight: 3 grammes
- Curator's comments
As1991,07.13 and 14
Notes by Brian Durrans, 16 May 2011
These two cups (see also 1991,07.13), collected on the same Air India flight from Delhi to London in 1991, express the functional / minimalist aesthetic of disposable mass-produced objects but also signify two economic developments symptomatic of India’s rise as a industrial power. The material of which they are made is thin card with a lightly waxed surface to allow them to hold hot drinks, so although a throwaway term for these throwaway objects might be paper cups, they are nevertheless the product of a complex technology.
The cup, As1991,07.13, signifies the internal integration of India’s economy. The increasing cross-linkage of formerly separate sectors of the economy, through larger enterprises expanding their investment portfolios and control, is also demonstrated in cross-sector marketing and mutual deals whereby each partner helps promote the other. It is unclear whether in this instance Air India advertised in the Sunday Mail, or the Sunday Mail simply paid to advertise on the airline’s paper cups. Another possibility is that the Sunday Mail was favoured when cabin staff offered newspapers to passengers, but that also remains to be confirmed. Whichever of these was the case, the cup signifies an important aspect of the advance of the Indian national economy.
This cup, AS991,07.14, similarly signifies that economy’s growing international reach and status. As the national carrier, Air India in its logo and advertising for many years conveyed a strong sense of national identity as fashioned by its economic elite, and for most of that time India was widely seen as a major source of cheap labour, much as China is today. Passengers given such cups for drinks (perhaps passengers were already called ‘customers’ or ‘clients’ in conformity with growing practice elsewhere at the time) would therefore receive indirect evidence of the airline’s (and by extension, India’s) world status or aspiration: in this instance, a company or nation that outsourced the manufacture even of a cheap ephemeral object. For the type of cup which this example represents, a choice was clearly made to have their origin legible on the base. Finland, moreover, like Sweden and Germany, has long enjoyed a strong reputation for design among Indian and other elites.
To summarise: like cheaply-made and disposable terracotta water-cups, still familiar throughout the country, these functionally-similar airline cups are also disposable and therefore liable to be dismissed as of no interest. Yet these humble objects refer eloquently to significant aspects of India’s developing economy. The pertinent aspect of their 'aesthetic' design is not just their overall shape but the placing of evidence of origin on the base rather than the side (As1991,07.14) or the more conspicuous placing of a commercial advertisement (As1991,07.13).
Note from the vendor
According to the vendor, purchased at Delhi airport, February 1991. Total of six cups originally acquired, four of which have not been added to the collections, but sent to Conservation instead. (BD,7/7/1992).
Compare with As1991,07.13
'Polarcup VP100 Made in Finland' printed on base, around rim.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2019 - 2020 19 Dec - 23 Feb, London, BM, G3, Disposable? Rubbish and us
- Acquisition date
- Registration number