The Popular Image - Vintage 20th Century Calendar Art from India

Start Date : 15 July 2022

End Date : 15 July 2025

The colonial era witnessed the arrival of new forms of printing that were used to disseminate the written word and images. Some of these,such as woodcuts, engravings and lithography,were conducive to the reproduction of images. While in the 19th century chromolithography had already begun to make inroads into India, Raja Ravi Varma truly popularised the medium.  In 1894 he set up a lithography studio through which he created prints of his paintings. These prints, that soon became a staple in many Indian homes, took on different afterlives. Prints inspired by Ravi Varma’s imagery came to be used in calendars published by businesses, devotional prints and a plethora of other surfaces thereby spawning an entire industry of popular imagery.

Calendarswere particularly conspicuous manifestations of popular art as they served a practical purposewhile also carryingvisual value due to their imagery; religious images of various kinds constituted the primary subject of calendars followed by secular images. As a result, calendars often survived their annual lifespan and were cherished as objects of veneration or visual admiration.

Historically speaking, calendar images drew from a variety of conventions as they unabashedly mingled elements from Western popular prints with native elements drawn from Indian visual, performativeand religious traditions. Within this broad framework of visual references there were regional variations; artists based in centres such as Madurai, Virudhunagar and Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu, Nathdwara in Rajasthan, Bombay and other centres of production werequick to adapt their creations to theiraudiences by weaving in region specific cultural elements and aesthetic preferences.This was also facilitated by the fact that many calendar artists belonged to traditional artist communities and were therefore alreadyfamiliar withrepresentative conventions as also the consumers.Typically, calendar artists worked out of practices that combined the indigenous guild-based approach with contemporary elements. At these studios, artists created abroad range of images such labels, greeting cards, devotional prints, magazine illustrations and sometimes even billboards in addition to calendars. While remaining anonymous mostly or sometimes identified by style, few artists, such as S. M. Pandit, B.G. Sharma, Yogendra Rastogi and C.Kondiah Raju,established a unique identity and followingfor themselves in the world of calendar art.

Over the years, calendar art has evolved in many ways. At the technical level, hand-based techniques of painting, spray painting, printing and collage have been replaced by digital media. Similarly, changes have taken place in the manners in which calendars are produced and distributed.Yet one aspect that remains at the heart of the art is the need for innovative imagery that combines tradition with modernity, the latter being interpreted through technique and image. To achieve this mixture of novelty, tradition and consumer appeal, calendar artists draw inspiration from a wide visual and cultural network constituted by films, other forms of popular imagery, evolving religious iconography and political developments. In turn, through their ubiquity calendars arouseand channelise popular feeling. Ultimately, by interfacing with the public and their sentiments, calendar images transform diverse populations into connected communities. 

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