21st century is so immersed in commercial typography, channel-hopping, web-surfing, consumer culture, competing values, and objects clamoring for attention that the picture of uniformly beautiful, obsessively thin and scantily dressed model cheerfully or seductively immersed in a forest of words on magazine covers may seem to us a mere depiction of daily normality. But Sanjay Verma’s recent images are infused with new radiance and vibrancy that propels us to take cognizance of the cliché emblem.
A period of some of the most rapid changes in our history, when technology, feminism and higher education intersected, resulted in the emergence of a ‘new cover model’ whose lures of sex, youth and liberation were co-opted by fashion magazines as potent ingredients to strengthen the magic of consumerism. With the rapid innovation of digital technology the cover typography on the magazines also began to break out of the quiet, restrained captions and became artistic elements in their own right. They quickly moved in to live with the ‘new cover model’.
At the turn of the twenty first century, fashion magazines witnessed the transformation of the standards of feminity into abstract representations of sexuality, which in turn marketed transnationally, stripped of its local connections to pleasure. Meanwhile, the once unobtrusive cover lines transcended to strong, large, loud and colourful cover lines. They flooded the cover space, forcing the cover model to interleave with the words, to fold up, to dismember to make room for the announcement of contents, or to become a billboard.
Sanjay’s recent oeuvre unveils this sorcery of misogynistic advertising industry that pulverized lipstick imperialism and reinforced the concept of women as an abstraction. It celebrates a vigorous, almost shocking dance of hot celeb model with vivid, seductively colourful cover lines- a worldwide phenomenon in the magazines of our era.
You thrill me/surround me/you fill me/you send me/you put me in a trance
You fill me/ inside me you take me/you thrill me/you put me in a trance*
Since the artist hails from Rajasthan, his predilection is for bright and snazzy colours which he delectably concocts with semi-abstract female forms, bar codes and squadron of words. The design acrobatics and models in contemporary poses together make a combination where excitement totters on the verge of exhaustion. His models embody outlines to reminisce the era before Photoshop where covers were created by the primitive technique of cutting and pasting, using photographs, clipart and sometimes hand-drawn elements. The stenciled appearance of female forms also allows the artist to castigate the artistic nadir of advertising publishing industry whose endless restlessness of constant creativity within narrow constraints makes all the magazine covers look identical.
Sanjay’s iconographically loaded subject compels us to contemplate that how magazine covers today reflect our ambivalent dance with language, categorical thought, global media, the ubiquity of advertising and spin, the colonization of our thinking by culture, and the supermarket of proliferating but limiting choices brought to us by multinational corporations. This ecumenical body of work is perhaps in some sense about the world where people live surrounded by the incessant throbbing of powerful categories projected through words. We all look at the world through a culture that filters our experience through its language and symbols-just as Sanjay’s cover models look at us through cryptically listed contents, which they practically wear like a garment, or stand in, like an aura. And we look at them through an aura of our own ongoing narratives, our individual table of contents, our personal cover lines.