Growing up, board games such as Snakes & Ladders / Chess were commonly played. It was something I always thought of as a “western” game. It wasn’t until much later in my adult years, I found out that both Chess and Snakes & Ladders are actually ancient games developed in India. Snakes & Ladders originated in ancient India as Moksha Patam, and was brought to the UK in the 1890s. The historic version had its roots in morality lessons, on which a player’s progression up the board represented a life journey complicated by virtues (ladders) and vices (snakes). It eventually also became popular in the Muslim world is known as shatranj al-’urafa, based on Sufi philosophy, the game represents the dervish’s quest to leave behind the trappings of worldly life and achieve union with God.

When the game was brought to England, the Indian virtues and vices were replaced by English ones in hopes of better reflecting Victorian doctrines of morality. Squares of Fulfilment, Grace and Success were accessible by ladders of Thrift, Penitence and Industry and snakes of Indulgence, Disobedience and Indolence caused one to end up in Illness, Disgrace and Poverty.

Rediscovering the origins of these memorable childhood games connected me back to my own cultural identity and roots. A lost history and narrative that I want to reclaim through this installation. Snakes are often showcased in a negative context, however, my artwork turns this on its head by featuring a bold powerful snake reaching for the skies. The ladders literally represent the game but also lend themselves to a trapped space with nowhere to go. Mirroring the sense of erasure and conversion of identity by colonialism.


Mustaali Raj


BAF Gallery
2-258 East 1st Ave
Vancouver, BC


Mar 31, 6-9PM

Exhibit Dates

Mar 31 to Jun 3, 2023