In 1976, London’s JPL Gallery hit upon a unique plan for a collection of works. They distributed a standard deck of playing cards (including two Jokers) among 54 top British artists and asked each of them to create their own, distinctive version of the card they received.
Artists like Howard Hodgkin, John Hoyland, Patrick Heron, Allen Jones, Maggie Hambling and David Hockney, took up the challenge, contributing to create a Deck of Cards, a collection that represented British art in a cool, new way.
Last year, the idea got a reshuffle. The British Council commissioned 54 of India’s top artists to create Taash Ke Patte, a new deck of cards. Artists as varied as Jyoti Bhatt, Nikhil Chopra, Shilpa Gupta, Sudhir Patwardhan, Raqs Media Collective, Anjolie Ela Menon, Syed Haider Raza, Thukral & Tagra and Waswo X Waswo each extended their style to a 36 cm x 30 cm playing card.
The works were exhibited alongside the original 1976 Deck of Cards in London last year. On May 25, the 54 cards go under the hammer at Christie’s South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art sale. The set is expected to fetch £80,000 to £120,000 (Rs 67 lakh to Rs 1 crore). Here’s a look at some of them, up-close.
Queen of Spades,
by Arpita Singh
Best known for her figurative oil paintings that explore the intersections between the private and public lives of women, Singh’s detailed ink works reflect her time as a textile designer at the Weavers’ Service Centre in the 1960s, where she studied Indian cloth-making traditions.
King of Hearts
by Krishen Khanna
Krishen Khanna is as well-known for his portraits of the overlooked and oppressed as he is for his eloquence, wit and charm. He depicts the King as a ‘roadside Romeo’, with an upturned collar, long hair held in place by a headband emblazoned with hearts, and a flower in his hand.
Jack of Clubs
by Gulam Mohammed Sheikh
Gulam Mohammed Sheikh’s practice is firmly rooted in the figurative-narrative tradition of Indian painting. His Jack of Clubs, rendered in his signature palette of pinks and greens, seems to be a self-portrait. The double-sided knave appears to be drawing himself into existence.
5 of Clubs
by Ram Rahman
Ram Rahman, a photographer, designer, curator and activist, is the only one to turn his playing card into a photograph, with street photography. The card shows the closed doors of a shop, on which a dress and the numbers one through five have been painted. Note the clubs symbol in the lower right corner.
5 of Spades
by Bhuri Bai
Bhuri Bai was one of the first women in her community — the Bhil tribe from central India — to paint on paper and canvas, rather than on the mud walls and floors of village homes. Her Five of Spades is characteristic of her work, with its flattened perspective, vivid palette and decorative dots and lines reminiscent of Bhil tattoos.
3 of Hearts
by Shilpa Gupta
Shilpa Gupta card draws from her project, Don’t See Don’t Hear Don’t Speak, a series of photographs, site-specific billboards and international performances that re-examine Gandhi’s famous three monkeys who see, hear and speak no evil. The card reflects her cynical realism in a world where ethical dilemmas are constant, and in which it can be easier to ignore violence than address it.
Back of Card
by Thukral & Tagra
The back of each card in this deck was designed by the duo Thukral & Tagra, whose work explores issues of urbanisation and consumerism in India. The duo combine fantasy with reality and high culture with kitsch to present a vintage home appliance sprouting petals in the sky - a playful, unconventional commentary on Indian contemporary life.