Liz Stanford

History of Design

Lakshmi Cracker Labels, c. 1970s and 2011

Printed paper

Title of Dissertation: Explosive Matters – The Lakshmi cracker in Indian firework labels, packaging and posters from the 1960s to the present

The brightly coloured and distinctive Lakshmi cracker, adorned with an image of the venerated Hindu goddess Lakshmi, is one of the most prevalent fireworks in India, and is particularly popular at the spectacular festival of Diwali. Focusing on the world’s largest firework company, Standard Fireworks, this dissertation explores the many ‘journeys’ undertaken by the Lakshmi cracker – from design, production and consumption, to recycling, collecting or destruction. It questions why, where, when and how an image of a goddess ended up on a firework destined to be blown up, and the ‘explosive’ responses this has provoked. It discusses the controversies attached to such an action, whereby the image is destroyed and falls to the ground to be trampled underfoot, an action that has been branded ‘offensive to Hindu sentiment’. This has prompted the redesign of the label, whereby the image of the goddess figure has been replaced with a peacock. Issues of ritual ‘purity’ and ‘pollution’ do much to elucidate the controversies surrounding the cracker, as do the problematics of the ‘ground’ and ‘feet’ in relation to ‘rubbish’ and sacred imagery. More broadly, this dissertation focuses on depictions of women on firework labels and the overlap of images of goddesses and ‘bombshells’ or ‘pin-ups’, the pervasive influence of Bollywood, as well as issues of copying and copyright. It examines the changing ‘value’ ascribed to the cracker, and different modes of ‘recycling’, as well as collecting, when the cracker label is effectively ‘reborn’ and takes on a ‘second life’.

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Courtesy of Standard Fireworks, India



One Year Photography Course, Kingston University, 2003; Foundation Art and Design, Yeovil College, 2000; BA (Hons), Anthropology, Durham University, 1999


Volunteer researcher and cataloguer, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2011–12; Web content editor, Audley Travel, Witney, 2006–10; Research and archive assistant, Beazley Archive, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 2005–6; Studio manager, assistant photographer, Photoshop operator and web developer, David Fisher Photography and Oxford School of Photography, Oxford, 2004–5


Clive Wainwright Memorial Prize, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2011; Gardiner Travel Award, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2011