Angela Bassett & Amanda Gorman Explain Why The 2024 Pirelli Calendar Is Back, Black & Better Than Ever
The 2024 Pirelli Calendar has been released, and it’s Blacker than ever before. At the end of November, I had the opportunity to attend the launch of Pirelli’s latest calendar. Pirelli, the renowned Italian tire brand, has earned its iconic reputation for two reasons: primarily, its long-standing partnership with Formula 1, and secondly, its annual calendar. The Calendar, exclusive and not for sale (it's reserved solely for the brand’s inner circle), originated in 1964 as an inventive marketing tactic. Over time, it ascended to fame by expertly capturing and honoring the pinnacle of cultural trends and moments. Every year, a photographer is carefully selected to infuse their unique vision into the publication. This year, the esteemed honor fell upon Prince Gyasi, a vibrant and young Ghanaian artist. Gyasi’s artistry is profoundly shaped by his synesthetic perception of color and his deep connection with his community. His photography, including this latest body of work, uses bold swatches of color and fantastical representations to create images that border the surreal. As the calendar was unveiled, it was striking to see how much the melting clock that model Naomi Campbell poses in front of reminded me of Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Memory (1931) adjusting for broad artistic freedoms.
The process of being chosen to photograph the calendar was seamless. After meeting with the Pirelli team in Paris this past March for a “vibe check,” Gyasi and the team quickly aligned on the creative. This year’s calendar revolves around the theme of, “Timelessness,” inviting audiences to delve deeper into enduring narratives through this artist’s lens. When questioned about his inspiration for the theme, Gyasi answered, “It’s about redefining what people think timeless is.”
The Cal is a publication with an inconsistent reputation. I would argue that the majority of previous editions were made, not surprisingly from and for a white male gaze, all in the service of art. However, in today's age, it becomes harder to separate the art from the artist. For example, we don’t let Kanye’s politics slide unchallenged because he makes dope ass shoes. By agreeing to partner with Pirelli, was it Gyasi’s responsibility to take on or at the very least, address their baggage? Further, is this something that his subjects like industry legend Angela Bassett and poet Amanda Gorman, famous in their own rights, should be forced to defend? During the press conference, when the artist was asked if he considered previous editions, Gyasi stated that his previous associations of the brand were centred firmly around F1. Nevertheless, this is without a doubt the Blackest issue of the Pirelli Cal that has ever been produced. For more context, this isn’t the first time that The Cal has featured an all Black cast. That honor belongs to photographer Terrance Donovan, who became the first to feature an all Black cast in 1987. The issue included a young Naomi Campbell photographed in Bath and was notably distinct from its predecessors by combining the erotic with the exotic. However, more than a decade later in 2009, Peter Beard shot a myriad of models in the Okavango Delta, Botswana in hopes to shed light on environmental challenges but there was not a Black model featured.
The Calendar’s progress when it comes to Black representation hasn't been linear, which is why this year's edition is special. Not only does it mark the 60th anniversary of the publication and the 50th issue, but it poses an important question: what happens when Blackness is placed at the forefront rather than as an obstacle to navigate around?
This year’s calendar showcases prominent figures such as Teyana Taylor, Amanda Gorman, Angela Bassett and Naomi Campbell, among others. Gyasi’s subjects, himself among them, serve as inspirational and educational mentors, profoundly influencing the evolution of the artist he has become. Some are individuals whom he admired during his formative years and continues to hold in the highest regard. Photographed in London, Accra, and Jamestown, the global nature of the calendar is a testament to the community that Gyasi has created across the diaspora. The images also serve as a re-introduction of Africa to the world. Also highlighted in the calendar is His Majesty Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, King of West Africa’s Asante Empire. Enthroned at the center and surrounded by his court, the image emanates majesty, resonating with the profound influence not only within the work but also encapsulating the potency of the nation and, on a greater scale, the entire continent. When speaking to Amanda Gorman, who is photographed alongside Margot Lee Shetterly, she acknowledged that, “In a world that is incredibly digital and visual and imagery based, being able to curate images of representation of people is still such a social cultural power to have...that type of authority over the images that enter the cultural space are astronomical.” I have to agree with her; The Cal, with its reach and influence, is too great of an opportunity to pass up especially when thinking about Gyasi’s work and the positive message — that we are powerful, vibrant, relevant, timeless — he's dispersing not only for Ghana but for Black people.
The work Gyasi is doing isn't just for his glory. He emphasizes that it means nothing if he's the first and only artist to be given opportunities such as this one. "It's about what happens after,” he said. The idea of opening doors for future Black [insert any profession here] isn’t Gyasi’s alone. When talking about the calendar and her involvement, actor and subject Angela Bassett told us, “The idea that I am opening the door so people can come through and do what they love, which they are passionate about, resonated with me.” With nothing but respect for Gyasi, Bassett called him a “visionary.”
As I was lugging the calendar on the plane home, its large packaging wonderfully lux, I wondered whether this calendar merely mirrors the present, showcasing Black people and culture as prominent and influential, or if it’s a glimpse into the future where we witness remarkable artistry flourishing through proper support for Black artists. This masterpiece of a calendar that not only puts Blackness at the forefront but is Black at its core is what happens when a young Black artist with a vision is given a large budget and brand support. It’s proof that this kind of representation and artistry can be the standard, not the exception.