Popular Art

Popular Art makes up a significant body of the collection and covers the development of the printing and advertising industry in India from the 19th century to the coming of the digital age in the late 20th century – including woodcut block prints and Ravi Varma’s oleographs, Nathadwara collages, Kalighat paintings, educational charts, textile labels, calendar art, commercial art, and a range of Bollywood paraphernalia from lobby cards to posters.

From Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Ramanand Sagar’s Mahabharat, Star Wars to Chacha Choudhary, present day memes and GIFs — the umbrella term ‘popular culture’ refers to diverse phenomena that form the mainstream culture of a demographic — varying with time and place.

Popular visual culture focuses on mainstream visual forms associated with mass-consumption and usually inseparably linked to mass-production and distribution systems. In India, its manifestations from the 19th century to date, can be tracked through a variety of mediums; from calendars, matchboxes and billboards, to hoardings, posters and postcards.

The MAP collection includes Ravi Varma’s famed oleographs which were central to the popularisation of classical Hindu mythological characters; as also, a significant collection of oleographic prints from the Chore Bagan and Kansari Para Art Studios in Kolkata, which serve to demonstrate how European imagery and Western academic idioms such as perspective in painting (as propagated by the colonial art schools) led to the emergence of new iconographies. Also included are a number of ‘Indo-German Collages’ and the remarkable ‘Nathadwara Collages’, which illustrate how images appropriated and manipulated from mass-produced and nationally circulated pictures were reconfigured through regional, cultural, aesthetic and ideological currents.

This section of the collection also covers early examples of bazaar art, like textile and other labels, most of which were printed either in Glasgow or Manchester, then major centres of the textile industry. It is also home to original paintings made for calendars, a number of educational charts that deal with topics as diverse as the freedom struggle and the chemical processes of distillation, and examples of several early advertising techniques – such as signboards and posters – that publicise a range of products from beedis, cigarettes and cycles to pens. Further, this section holds a large spectrum of publicity material related to Bollywood, such as movie posters, film memorabilia, lobby cards and so on.

Through its wide ranging collection of engravings, lithographs and oleographs MAP presents a historiographic view of popular visual culture in India as well as its counterparts in Europe. Focusing on production processes, it will locate the dominant ideologies upon which the visualisation of gods and goddesses, cultural heroes and other stock figures, were conceptualised and circulated through the popular arts.

An important objective in the displaying of this section is to dismantle the formal aspects of these visual forms; looking closely at imagery, composition, typesetting and printing, to produce a better understanding of the ways in which iconography and modes are affected and influenced by their political, historical and social contexts. Inversely, these forms also provide us with invaluable insights into these contexts, and the ways in which they have shaped both country and cultural transactions.

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