Enter a cottage in Himachal Pradesh or an apartment in Colaba, and somewhere among the belongings, you are bound to come across a calendar.
“The calendar has a really powerful role in all Indian families,” says artist Delip Sharma. “In the main room, when you visit any town site, you’ll see the calendar marked with all the holidays and melas and the hero poster.”
Sharma points out that it was the calendar that imparted information long before the Internet and televison became commonplace, and it lent a sense of glamour to small homes around the country.
With 11 other artists, Sharma will be celebrating and updating the genre of calendar art in a new exhibit curated by Himanshu Verma, director of the online art gallery Red Earth. Verma says he had been toying with the idea of creating a contemporary art calendar as a gift for friends and patrons of Red Earth, when it struck him that if he flipped the words, he had an even more interesting idea—contemporary calendar art.
April: Thukral and Tagra’s Dominus Aeris.
Over the years, calendar art in India has grown from being a popular art form to a studied and collected category of work. New Delhi-based sociologist Patricia Uberoi has encouraged this transition by collecting calendar artworks herself and by assisting in the creation of an online digital archive of popular art called Tasveer Ghar (www.tasveerghar.net).
“This actually represents quite a major change in sensibilities,” Uberoi wrote in an email interview. “Not so long ago, everyone looked down upon calendar art.” She says the art form suffered as there was no proper sense of individual authorship and there was a great deal of copying. But “now the new interest in popular culture and cultural studies has given calendar art an academic respectability”.
Uberoi sees the project as a chance for artists to appreciate the creativity of calendar artists and to reinterpret this within a contemporary idiom.
Verma says academic and critical studies inform his contemporary take on this art form. The iconography of images used in calendars, he says, falls roughly into four categories: landscapes, religious images, patriotic symbols and Bollywood-inspired calendars. He looked for artists to create images around these classifications and found a few older pieces that already fit the form.
The 12 works will be on display at the Apparao Art Gallery, New Delhi, and Red Earth will produce a calendar with each work representing one month.
So, for example, he says he chose Thukral and Tagra’s Dominus Aeris, a dreamscape of Gurgaon’s baroque homes adorned with flower blossoms and water tanks, to herald the spring in April. For December, Sharma has drawn a highly stylized Mallika Sherawat, specifically commissioned for the show. He sees his image as a mix between the filmi and religious categories, because Bollywood item girls, as he puts it, are the “Y2K goddesses”.
Other pieces include Arts Matters: The Pool of Life, an intricate landscape of a culturally diverse Liverpool by UK artists The Singh Twins, and Biplab Muzibar Rahman’s haunting work, Durga—a handcoloured photograph harking back to the early days of 19th-century photography.
Verma says that while the works are multilayered and complex, because they follow the structure and iconography found in popular calendar art, they can be easily appreciated by anyone. “If you show this to any layperson, they would be able to understand it at a very immediate level,” he says. “In that, the battle is won in trying to reach the audience”, thanks to working with a very specific Indian sensibility.
For instance, most people will recognize Sherawat, even if they do not fully understand the reasons behind Sharma’s stylized depiciton of the actor.
Verma says a big challenge for an art curator today is to balance “how not to compromise on the complexity of the artwork while engaging the wider audience”. He insists that the reason many people do not understand and appreciate contemporary art is simply because they are not exposed to it. He hopes a project that merges high art with popular art will make it more accessible to the man on the street.
The show, presented by Apparao Galleries and Red Earth, will be on at Triveni Garden Theatre, New Delhi, from 19-30 January. Calendars will be available for purchase at www.redearthindia.com for Rs300.