Published: 11th April 2019
Lal Poster: Why you need to visit Gulal Salil's satire-laden art-politics page on Facebook
Gulal Salil, an Anthropology student at TISS, Guwahati runs an art page on FB that discusses poetry, politics, art-comics, cartoons, news analysis, film criticism, public/street and political/folk art
While studying at the Symbiosis Institute of Media & Communication, Gulal Salil and his roommate, Jeremy Fernandes, visited their friend's room and were surprised to see it covered in red cellophane. Gulal remembers the song 'Illusion' by Skyharbor playing as they 'tripped' over how amazing the red room looked. They decided to replicate it in their own room. So for the longest time, the red emanating from their room was the only light that 'silver-lined' the dark corridors of the hostel.
This was one of the many reasons, Gulal says, that influenced him to name his art-page on Facebook, 'Lal Poster'. Gulal lists out various other anecdotes in connection with both the name 'Lal Poster' and all the art that it holds (but we'll get into that later). We reached out to the 25-year-old artist after his posters for the TISS Guwahati faculty protest found its way to many timelines. Gulal describes the art page as — poetry, politics, art-comics, cartoons, news analysis, film criticism, public/street and political/folk art and all things literature, especially anthropologically-edged writing. Makes sense, seeing as how Gulal is currently pursuing his Masters in Sociology and Social Anthropology. This started out to be a simple interview of a bright, young artist who calls his work 'art-politics' but became a story of love, loss, friendship and the culmination of it all, in his art.
I say this, because throughout our 45-minute chat, Gulal mentions various friends, his writer-mother, his artist-father, his filmmaker-brother and his poet-grandfather, the well known Bhagwat Rawat. "I started doing digital art when I was in college and I particularly like drawing people' faces, but I don't really draw faces, I draw moods. So I was creating some art on my own when one day, a friend of mine, Siddhant Paul, approached me to design a poster for his film. It was from him that I learnt a lot of art philosophy. Lal Poster became big because of the various other film posters, magazine covers and event posters that I had the chance to design," he said.
While Gulal was in school, his brother also made a documentary on the evolution of film-posters, "It was called 'Phata Poster Nikla Hero'," Gulal said. And in college, the red-cellophane phenomenon happened. "Red light became our (Jeremy and Gulal's) thing and I also think that red is a pretty misunderstood colour," he said, smiling.
Finally, in the third year, he seriously began to brainstorm for an apt name for all the work that he had producing. "I had a big problem with identity and still do," he laughed, "So I was particular about giving the art a name that was separate from Gulal. And so, when my friend Nikhil Iyer, told me to name it 'Lal Poster', I immediately knew it was the right name." It is because so many people played a role in the name of his artwork, he jokes that he often thinks the page on FB should have been a community page, instead of an artist page.
Crash and rise theory
He often uses the term 'unit' to describe his relationships with his friends. But the one name that he often mentions though, is that of Jeremy Fernandes, his roommate. Coming from such an artistic family, it wasn't a surprise that Gulal became one himself. But it was only after the passing of Jeremy in a tragic accident, that his art became 'art-politics'.
"Jeremy and I, and our partners, Niyanta and Meetali who also happened to be roommates were one unit. While I was working in Ahmedabad in 2015, they continued to be here, in Mumbai. My partner, Niyanta and Jeremy met with an accident. Jeremy passed away on the spot and Niyanta was in the ICU for days," he recounts. For the next few months, Gulal says he became withdrawn, morose and quiet. "I would work all day and in the evening I threw myself into my artwork. But I also began to get more interested and affected by the things that started to happen around me," he said.
That's when it happened. "It was around that time that Rupert Murdoch took over National Geographic and Modi was in power. And there were all these things happening around me that began to impact me deeply and I produced all those feelings in a dark, satirical, politically-oriented way," he said. But all his proper political work has only happened in the last 5-6 months, he says. "It took 4 years, between 2015-2019 to finally be able to articulate my thoughts properly and say what I had to say," the artist added.
He also actively participated in various protests that rocked campuses nation-wide. From the scholarship protests in TISS to filing the petition regarding the #MeToo allegations in SIMC, Gulal became involved in all the politics that affected him. His latest being the TISS faculty protests, "With regard to politics though, my articulation of it is relatively new but I think I have been active in standing up against power and abuse of authority and other things from before," he said.
Jeremy's calling, everyday
While he will continue to talk, write and create art on all things personal and political, Gulal says, the page in a way is still a way for him to pay homage to Jeremy, "Personally, it is almost like an ode to Jeremy. He was the closest to me. He saw me grow as a designer. He saw me working double time to learn design late into the hours of the night under the red light. And on top of it, he was a wonderful cartoonist - I wish I could one day make something of his sketchbook and present the wonder that he was, to the world. He would have grown as a terrific artist. Lal Poster and even what I am today as Gulal Salil wouldn't have been what it is without his diffused presence all into our lives - which continues till today. Then there is my partner, Niyanta and his, Meetali. The four of us were a unit and the accident left Jeremy in all of us."
In all this talk of red, we cannot forget the fact that Gulal's name itself is traditionally a word used to mean the colours that people play with on Holi. Let's hope he continues to paint the town red....and blue and pink and green...