Next time you look at one of those ultra colourful, single sheet calendars with Laxmi or Durga icons etched on it, look carefully. These images being sold at traffic lights or outside pilgrimage points could, in the years to come, be a wonderful collection of the most affordable art form around, says Patricia Uberoi, a Delhi-based sociologist who has been collecting prints, calendars with iconography of gods and goddesses, and pin-ups, for almost five decades along with her husband, academic J.P.S. Uberoi.
In her 60s now, Uberoi, who teaches at the Institute of Economic Growth, says she has no idea how many prints they currently possess. “It could be anywhere between 3,000 and 4,000 prints starting from the 1950s. We got attracted to this art form, which draws heavily on folk and popular culture, because it reflects the changes happening in our society from down to up. As sociologists, we found that calendar art offers a perspective on Indian society and culture that is often missing from grander works.”
According to Uberoi, visuals in calendar art are more often than not a product of fantasy and desires of the artist, and are heavily influenced by film hoardings, actresses, actors, a.k.a popular culture, and politicians. So don’t be surprised if you see Durga looking like Indira Gandhi in some of the calendars from the 1970s. “These visuals can be funny and amusing, or just colourful, and at other times, they can be wild and sexy, even coarse, but at the end of the day they represent the changing social history.”
Even though the chronology on the calendar is Western, they are printed around the Indian New Year (Diwali) because “people tend to redecorate their houses around this time”, says Uberoi. From 20paise in the 1960s to Rs25 per piece today, calendars and pin-up posters may not be very expensive to buy, but sure are very hard to maintain. “The paper quality is bad and often, over the years, the paper on which they are printed becomes brittle. We have spent almost Rs1,000 each in getting some of these mounted so that they can be preserved.” As for the rest, “they lie in horrible old trunks waiting to be exhumed”, she says with a laugh.
Uberoi had curated an exhibition titled ‘Goddess to Pinups’ in 1994, which travelled to many cities, and is looking to create a digital archive of the collection.
The only advice Uberoi has for you: “Collect things where you can spot a theme or be excited about. Just because what you collect may have a great resale value in years is never a good premise to start a collection.”