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Sarnath Banerjee is a high jumper—only for the day we meet, though. The artist and graphic novelist is trying to play out the life and times of an elite athlete (and failing). “Last week, I was a pole vaulter," says Banerjee, who’s been studying the lesser-known Olympic sports over the last few months.

One of the four artists selected to produce public art projects curated by the Frieze Foundation for the London 2012 Festival, Banerjee is working on a project he refers to as the “narrative history of losers". His graphic narratives will appear on 48 billboards across east London as well as in community newspapers during the London Olympics, which will open on 27 July.

On track: Work-in- progress sketches of Banerjee’s billboards, which will be installed in East London during the Olympics.

Cutting across what he calls the “loser" sports—high jump, long jump, pole vaulting and javelin, among others—Banerjee’s commentaries are pseudo-autobiographical, inked with humour and irony.

As Sarah McCrory, Frieze Foundation’s curator, says, his commission taps into a collective consciousness of sporting near misses or partial successes. It’s about the people who almost made it, resonating with both local communities and visitors to the 2012 Games.

The series of four public art projects, called Frieze Projects East, commissioned for the London 2012 Festival, will be put up in six east London host boroughs for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games: Barking and Dagenham, Greenwich, Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest. Other artists include the Britain’s Anthea Hamilton & Nicholas Byrne and Gary Webb and Turkey’s Can Altay, who’re all working on independent projects, including sculptural works and architectural installations.

McCrory had come across Banerjee’s work in a presentation made by his Mumbai gallery, Project 88, at Artissima, an art fair in Turin, Italy, and recommended him for the Frieze Art Fair in 2009. “Later, I investigated and found that he had studied in London (Goldsmiths College)—which was great because all the artists making projects have lived in, or have a strong relationship with, London in some way—I felt that was important for the context of the work."

Will his brand of humour and cultural references work with the residents of East London? McCrory believes so. “I think what’s important about Sarnath’s work is that he deals with universal themes. There may be cultural specificities in there, but the overall picture is one we can all relate to—success or failure, family relationships, personal endeavours..." she says.

Banerjee is working hard to finish his billboards by the end of May. The works will also travel to the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, later in the year.

The billboards and newspaper inserts, each about a different sport or sportsperson, are connected by a larger narrative—not the clichéd rhetoric of large sporting events. Banerjee’s artworks are a foil to those countless jingles about victory and honour, about giving “it" your best shot. Instead, his narratives are about the thoughts in a boxer’s head when he’s cornered against the ropes. “How many more of those do I have to dodge before I hear the sweet sound of the final bell?" our protagonist asks. In another, about Gatien who’s facing match point—the French player is thinking about the eerie silence of the indoor stadium in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. He goes on to ponder on the spelling of “e-e-r-i-e".

Not all of Banerjee’s subjects are “losers": Gatien won a silver in 1992. Later, in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, he won a bronze. It’s just that he didn’t make the gold.

Banerjee’s art project is about the people who don’t win, not just in the Olympics but in life. During the London Olympics, his gallery of non-performers will play to a gallery of non-performers.

Not all is fair in sport.

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