Friday, February 6, 2009

Even cowgirls get the blues - by BHUSHITA VASISTHA in

“Love is in the air
In the whisper of the tree
And I don´t know if I´m just dreaming”

When Australian singer John Paul Young wrote these famous words in 1978, it had been just five years since the first cell phone (Motorola Dyna-Tacthe) hit the market, and SMS was still to be discovered. Naturally, it felt as if he was “dreaming” to feel “love in the air”.
In 2007, twenty-nine years after the song was released, Nepali artist Ragini Upadhyay Grela felt she wasn’t just dreaming, thanks to her mobile phone and its SMS function in particular, to feel love in the air.

“It was during my stay in Vienna when I realized how air has become the carrier of love,” the artist said, explaining the muse behind her forty-ninth solo exhibition - “Love in the Air”. The show will kick off from Saturday at Siddhartha Art Gallery, Babar Mahal.
“I was staying with a woman who was in love, and she used the text message to express it to her beloved. Suddenly, for me, it wasn’t the same air I had been breathing all my life. It was so special, it was love!”

The exhibition has fifty-three art works, mostly mixed media. In this series, she has celebrated both information technology and lovers together. The half-animal, half-human figures, idiosyncratic of Ragini’s work, fly across the Taj Mahal, Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty and Ghanta Ghar with messages of love popping through her cell phones and computers.
She said the exhibition is a welcome to Valentine’s Day, which is just around the corner.

As usual, some of her art gives strong political commentaries. For instance, in one satiric picture, she makes fun of five major political leaders of Nepal, who are trying to light the whole country with a small candle.

“Really, it is weird to see their response to recent power cuts. Information technology has worked miracles in the world, while in Nepal we’re still struggling to have our room lit with electric bulbs." she lamented.

A graduate of Fine Arts from Lucknow University, Upadhyay grew up in a small village in Ramnagar, a border town on the Indian side. As a farmer her father’s biggest dream for his daughter was to be a graduate, it didn’t matter in which subject.

So, she was sent to Allahabad, India, to pursue her studies. But for Ragini there was something in academics which didn’t click at all. “Slowly my parents weren’t surprised to learn I flunked my subjects,” she smiled, sighed, and smiled again.

After completing her high school level studies, Ragini knew if there was anything she could graduate in, it was art. “You wouldn’t believe it, I couldn’t copy good hand-writing but could emulate every other face I saw.”

“It was very difficult to study art then. My mother showed a thousand and one reasons not to study it.” She added, “But I had made up my mind. I told her if I couldn’t study art, she had better start looking for a suitor.”

Upadhyay had her first exhibition in 1979 and never looked back, although financially the days weren’t as easy. “As an artist, I was always paid in terms of my satisfaction. However, we need to cultivate an aesthetic culture in Nepal as well.”

“For instance, people live in a house worth millions and hang a poster of Bangkok.”

In her experience, the rapidity with which Indian society is catching up with art is a lesson for Nepal. During artist’s stay in Gadhi Art Village at India in 1984, there was an extremely talented senior artist named Himmat Shah. But Shah was so poor he couldn’t pay the nominal rent charge for his studio, let alone pay to have two good meals a day. “But now, within some decades, Shah has become a big-shot artist in India, while his contemporary Nepali artists are still having hand-to-mouth problems.”
Published on 2009-02-06 21:31:00

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