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Kama Sutra's new position
French illustrator Malika Favre has observed the letter and spirit of the Kama Sutra - and has depicted the positions in the form of the English alphabet.
One could call them action figures, but they're not toting guns, Kevlar vests or military helmets. They are armed alright but with just love. And it is love of the sexy and bold kind expressed in 26 different ways. London-based French illustrator Malika Favre has taken Vatsayana's ancient text of Kama Sutra and turned it into a saucy, contemporary, vivid interpretation. The project, which initially began as a bookcover, has sex positions from the Kama Sutra in the form of the 26 English letters. Fresh and steamy, Favre's typography takes the conventional renditions of the book's content into the realm of graphic design.
In 2011, Favre was commissioned by Penguin Books US to do the cover for a new deluxe edition of the book. It was a part of their Classic Deluxe series in which a literary classic is paired with an artist. Favre created the first seven letters for that cover, spelling out the word Kama Sutra in bold graphics and kinky illustrations. It was only later that she, who likes to get to the essence of the idea by using as few lines and colours, went all 26.
"While the cover got a good reception, it somehow felt unfinished for me without the remaining 19 letters. I kept the idea of extending the alphabet to get a full set in the back of my mind for a year. I finally went ahead when Pick Me Up London contacted me to take part in the 2013 Graphic Art Fair, " says Favre.
While researching book covers and collateral visuals for the Kama Sutra, Favre wasn't very successful at finding contemporary images. "The traditional Kama Sutra drawings were stunning and contained such amazing details but aside from those, the modern attempts often tended to reduce the content to the sole sex position aspect, forgetting the spiritual side. A lot of modern visuals tend to go down the erotic soft and romantic route, probably to appeal to the female audience whereas the original Indian paintings are extremely graphic and descriptive, " she says.
Favre's letters are pared down versions of the positions but they retain that very descriptive and direct representation that the original drawings have. "I trusted my own judgment, as a woman, not to cross that invisible line that takes something from classy to vulgar. Most importantly, I approached it from a strong aesthetic perspective, trying to make each position as organic and pleasing to the eye as possible. Some are more graphically explicit than others and each letter has a different mood which I felt was essential, " she says.
In spite of the minimalistic, Western feel of the design, Favre wanted to preserve the Indian-ness of the idea in a non-clichêd manner. Her solution was to hint at its origins through the use of colours - the red, yellow and black. Favre enjoys using the negative space in graphics, which she employs as a tool to reduce her subject down to its core. She says it allows her to tackle tricky subjects like the Kama Sutra yet retain a certain sophistication. "It is a difficult process probably for the simple reason that you cannot hide behind any superficial elements. The result is visually so simple that it needs to feel effortless, " she says.
This is not her first sexy typography project, though. Five years ago, she designed The Alphabunnies, another risquê typeface that was commissioned by Wallpaper, a design magazine. The idea of creating an alphabet came when she was drawing the bunnies in various positions and noticed that a couple of them were reminiscent of letters. "Human shaped letters is a fairly recurring trend and I certainly didn't invent it but naughty letters are a bit rare. I guess sex as a subject has always fascinated me. I was raised in a very open family and always considered sex as being an important part of life. I viewed it as a playful act and was always surprised by the omnipresence of taboos surrounding sex as I grew older. I had been drawing sexy girls since I was a teenager and my sketchbooks were full of suggestive artwork, " she says.
Favre's typeface has also been converted into gently gyrating GIF format in collaboration with animators giving them unique personalities.
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