Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Art Attack by Abhi Subedi

As always Abhi Subedi provides very fine words for my paintings.

Art Attack

A unique visual of Nepali politics is on display at Siddhartha Art Gallery in Kathmandu. This is an exhibition of paintings executed by the well-known mature artist Ragini Upadhyay Grela. She has used oil, drawings and intaglio in her works. One afternoon, I visited the gallery to see her paintings mainly executed round the theme of current Nepali politics. The occasion was Gaijatra, literally translated as cow festival, which is a famous Newar festival. This day triggers ambivalent impulses of fun and sadness. Fun is associated with sadness because Pratap Malla’s queen, inconsolable after the death of their son, had laughed at seeing the fun and frolic created on this occasion. According to historians, the originary of this festival can be traced from much earlier times. However, the dead become the motif of the festival on this day. A combination of street performativity and memory of the dead constitute the uniqueness of this culture.

But when I met this artist fluently interpreting her entire art to show the weakness of Nepali politics and politicians, I became very pensive. I have done art criticism since 1971; and as a theatre person, I have used the wisdom, semiotics and symbolism of this festival for my plays as well as for my book on the history of Nepali theatre. But what struck me here was the sheer politics—the burlesque and the anti-climactic moments of Nepali politics created in art form. I know Nepali politics is not the sublime; it is not the only subject of discussion among Nepali artists and writers. But to see this Nepali artist with an international reputation dwelling passionately on the current absurdities that she sees in Nepali politics is a subject of tremendous significance. It raises questions of the following nature.

Has the current political imbroglio so completely dominated Nepali artists’ imaginaire as in this exhibition? Has Nepali art always been so responsive to the political consequences of current Nepali history? Why did the artist become so sensitive to the present state of stalemate in negotiations among the parties? I have heard about the bravado of artists and some writers about the political changes and being sensitive to the events in the past years. Some have used the often-repeated stories of their involvement in creating history as artists. But what is never seen is the picture of Nepali history when it was embroiled in the 10-year war.

No artist has significantly made any paintings on the fate of those who have lost their lives, lost their properties and become victims of war and homeless. We tried to talk to war victims from different places in the country for theatre. Their stories were heart-rending, but performing the same was not possible because the people who would be linked to the events would not allow the show to go ahead in their areas.

To artists and writers, that sombre history mostly remained invisible. Of course, some good works have been written. Semioticists found the impact, the devastation and the faces of the victims and their plight photogenic. Important and sleek volumes have been published; exhibitions have been held in different parts of the country. It is easy to do photographic works and media dissemination of the same. But to execute a similar number of paintings or sculpt works on the gory themes and disseminate the same is not possible for painters and artists.

Poets have been going to different places and reading their symbolic poems. Plays have been taken to villages and performed by good theatre artists. But for artists, it is not easy to take their works and exhibit them in different places. The question why comes up. The answer is that artists cannot execute paintings as easily in different situations as media people can manage it.

Artist Durga Baral made strong paintings about the war and cartoons of the cow metaphor; several young artists too have executed paintings about the war and its consequences. But of necessity, they had to choose galleries to exhibit them. Very few people go to see the paintings.

But Ragini’s intaglios and drawings have drawn so much attention recently in the capital. Her fluent interpretation of her figures did not make me feel happy. I quietly wanted to see her exquisite works on my own. She is a very talented artist. Her lines are amazing. She draws lines without using erasers or pencils. In her intaglio, her combination of colours is powerful and charming. Her print works are very fine; she can give an expressionistic mode to her print works. Many artists who use her medium have ended up in the twilight zone of decorative and expressive art. But Ragini has transcended that. She has exhibited her works in Europe, India and Nepal. She is one of the few Nepali artists who sell their works at good prices. In this exhibition, I found her drawings very interesting and powerful. Though it takes her less time to execute them, they impressed me, I must confess, more than her much hyped intaglio cow figures and figurines in some cases.

Ragini’s cow images are amazingly beautiful despite the burden of the bizarre theme she attributes to them. Her cows are dismembered. Some of them are in the belly of the lion that has devoured her. They yield not milk but explosives; people are exploiting her. The cow is people, suavity and the country. Lions are cheats. People are dishonest. But it is a different experience to see these bizarre figures. They do not frighten the viewers. The cows, even in their precariously imposed symbolism by the artist, give the impression of folktales and fables.

But what I find difficult and also feel intrigued about is the combination of fables and fabulation. Ragini like a Christian artist valorising a Christian theme is projecting the Hindu holy-cowism in her works. That could be a limitation; but for Hindu viewers and others who know the culture, that is a natural symbolism. But the paintings and the rhetoric of the artist exaggerate the so-called evil of politics. Valorising the holiness of the cow and feudal Hindu values, abusing the democratic system of government and the present state of political awareness, and ignoring the multiple openings of consciousness is not a progressive concept in art.

A cow’s body parts are falling off. The artist and the media said that this was the dissolution of the country’s body under a federal structure. The news spread; and I was told that Chitra Bahadur K.C., an anti-federalist communist leader, was going to speak on it at the gallery. That would perhaps be K.C.’s first painting encounter in life. But he would speak about his usual politics, not about art.

Ragini is a very good artist; she is a good friend. I will tell her what I feel about her work. But I would like to warn the politicians of this country that their reputation is plummeting; and very soon it will go down in people’s psyche through art, songs, poems, stories and folklore. Better change your ways and write the constitution before you are given permanent places of tricksters in paintings and folktales. Remember, the people’s patience with your politics is running out.

Abhi Subedi
Originally posted on: 2010-09-01 08:37

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Love Bells a remake

Albert got a new version of his morphing software and had to experiment it with the Love Bells. It comes quite nice.

You could also look at his other videos on Youtube - just search bubur5


Buddha series a new video

Back in 2002 I introduced the Buddha series with these words :

"A sun never dies, Buddha lights and Truth shines

Since the beginning of time the sun never died so is the real and authentic Truth, it lasts generation after generation despite the oppression, the violence or any obscurantism.

The Truth is wisdom and has to be nurtured day after day.

The world during the last 15 months seems to me to have forgotten the path to Truth and wisdom. Very close to us in Nepal, the 1st of June royal massacre has instilled a lasting sorrow and a desperate thirst for genuine Truth. Across the oceans, the unthinkable terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York has given us apocalyptic images that are going to be replayed for some generations as a proof of the extreme vulnerability of modern societies in face of fanaticisms. The destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha in Afghanistan was an other blow to the fundamentals of humanity and culture. It was an act of arrogant ignorance and total disrespect for the world cultural heritage.

I am still completely puzzled by the magnitude and the depth of such violence , arrogance and disrespect for Life. Are these people putting themselves in the place of Gods. Are they the precursors of KALKIN, the forthcoming reincarnation of Vishnu, supposed to destroy the whole Creation ?

Life is already so short when it comes to build knowledge and wisdom. It is already so tedious the know something in this existence, how can so many work to so much destruction and hate ?

In this confusion, I felt very healed by the peaceful images of Buddha and I felt compelled to emulate the long succession of artists who found in Buddha a profound source of inspiration and a strong desire to propagate his shining message of compassion, peace and tolerance.

So here are my Buddhas, very afflicted by the catastrophes plaguing the humanity , torn apart in some pictures but delivering tirelessly their injunction to meditation, self-control, peace and compassion.

May peace prevail. "

Today Albert gives a new lease of life to this very nice series of colographs

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dusting off an old article - Ragini's political stand 1995

From Maurice O’Riordan
Asian Art News – August 1995

Myth and politics have always been a strong and inextricable themes in the artistic career of Ragini Upadhayay-Grela, one of the few fully professional artists working in Nepal today. The title, The Myth of Politics, for her most recent exhibition of 21 paintings was borrowed from an American academic who interviewed her for a thesis on women in South Asian political life It is from this that Upadhayay-­Grela explores the joining of power and human destiny. At a more local and contemporary level it also portrayed elections in Nepal (in November 1994) which saw the collapse of the ruling Congress Party and the installation of the Communist Party Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPNUML) minority government.

One work which stands out in contrast to the turbulence is Let Them Bark. I Go My Own Way, dedicated to her late father and a center piece to the show. This rather proud and defiant title could easily serve as a motto for Upadhayay-­Grela's artistic career. The I of the painting is an impressive elephant lyrically depicted in motion and profiled with several heads at either end. Inside the elephant Upadhayay-­Grela has suggested a landscape with angular distant mountain peaks and spiraling water. In the foreground is a consistent symbol in her work, poetic birds in flight or contemplation. Encroaching upon the elephant (but no match for its serene and steady course) are the multitude of hounds suitably cruel and ferocious looking but obviously more bark than bite. These hounds also border the top of the painting and fulfill the failure of their futile menacing by appearing to chase their own tails.

The timelessness to which Queen refers in The Mytb of Politics relates not only to human politics but also to rudimentary forms, subtle layering of hand prints and color absorption into the handmade paper which evoke the aura and vitality of ancient rock art. It would be wrong, however, to think that Upadhayay-Grela's paintings only offer a 'bemused' response to political life. The symbols in her narrative reveal a far more profound and poetic investigation. Game of Blood, for example, makes no pretense about the brutal culture of politics while drawing upon a uniquely Nepalese blood-lust context with the Kumari, Khukuri, and goat.

The Myth of Politics sheds some light on issues raised in a recent overview of contemporary art in Nepal (Asian Art News, Volume 4, Number 5, September/October 1994). Politics is integral part of Nepali life which in some way accounts for Upadhayay-Grela's choice of theme, as her artistic intention has always been to produce socially meaningful and relevant work. Among the obstacles facing Nepal's contemporary art community the most prevalent are a lack of exposure and exchange. Upadhayay-Grela's enormous body of work builds effectively on the Nepali traditions and techniques with a universality and individuality that exposes the limitations of national or contemporary classifications.

In terms of exposure and exchange, Upadhayay-Grela's career echoes the path of the more successful Nepalese artists with initial fine arts training abroad (India) and participation in a number of international workshops, residencies, and exhibitions. Being part of a more global contemporary art scene has no doubt given the humanism of her work greater scope, opening it up to varying modes of expression and more sophisticated media, particularly in terms of printmaking. With The Mytb of Politics, Upadhayay-Grela shows that, although she is an artist in constant quest of new ways and forms of expression, she remains true to the symbols and subject matter which are close to the heart of her Nepalese cultural heritage.

In Election 94, Upadhayay-Grela built upon the imagery used by the two elections rivals: the Tree for the Congress Party and the Sun for the CPU‑UML, as well as party flags and political slogans. Throughout Nepal one finds a proliferation of these two key symbols vying for public wall space. Ragini did not hesitate to explain that the prominent tree with its attendant mermaid-goat on the left hand side of Election 94 was a direct copy of an ancient Nepalese folk symbol. For Upadhayay-Grela the appeal of such symbols lies in their potent contemporary and ancient duality and this is arguably the overall strength and effect of the exhibition. A central motif in Election 94 and another, the ten headed human form based on the ten fold incarnations of the Hindu god Vishnu, complete with the prosaic addition of sunglasses and umbrella represent the duality of the political climate perhaps, with the Communist Sun, for the time being, victorious above.

The Mytb of Politics was met with a number of enthusiastic reviews in the local press. A review in the newspaper 7be Rising Nepal challenged the degree to, which Upadhayay-­Grela had delved into such a loaded subject as politics given its heightened Nepali context. The criticism was, in part, a response to the artists' reliance upon children's folk story telling traditions as the allegorical Truth behind many of her paintings: for example, The Rabbit and the Tortoise and Tbe Matsyanyaya Big (Fish) Eat Small Fish. Perhaps it is fair to say that Upadhayay-Grela is more interested in myth than in politics. Her intuitive style and the unequivocal morality of these folk narratives blend a child-like simplicity and wonder to these paintings which is part of their charm.

Dr. Abhi Subedi observed in his catalogue essay: "Ragini's political paintings do not project the grim and violent post-modernist images of the political myth of the recent times." There is unbridled optimism in the love of experimentation, in the vitality of her symbolism and the continuity of her artistic­ folklore heritage. As with all mythology, her work conveys a sense of timelessness, partly because of her technique, but mostly because of the human players in her narratives, those who are hungry for the power of The Chair, but are no more than the spirit of mythologies that have come before and will ultimately outlive them.

Maurice O’Riordan
Asian Art News – August 1995

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Gai Jatra on canvases

KATHMANDU, Aug 26: Ragini Upadhyay Grela might have had controversies surrounding her after her resignation from the Nepal Art Academy. However, the sassy painter does not seem to be bothered as she continues to do what she does best.

Gai Jatra, her latest art series currently on display at the Siddhartha Art Gallery at Baber Maha Revisited is undeniably an interesting series to go through. Coinciding with this year’s Gai Jatra day, the series fully follows the ethos of the festival.

Her paintings parody the current political fiasco and the power-hungry politicians of Nepal. About the series, Sangeeta Thapa, curator of the gallery, rightly puts in, “Ragini’s Gai Jatra is a witty and vibrant exhibition that captures the farce of the ongoing socio-political situation in Nepal.”

The Gai (cow) symbolizing Nepal as the enduring mother nation, but beset by lions with snake-like tongues and tails, symbolizing the so-called rulers of the nation and the Goddess Kumari, temples and chaityas symbolizing the cultural dignity of our country make up most of her paintings.

She continues to use many flying or suspended images, and with the additional sense of Gai Jatra, her subjects are even more topsy-turvy than usual. There are tons of symbolic images on a single canvas, and that is what keeps you pulled in.

In one of her paintings entitled “Divided Nepal,” the beasts or lions clawing on a cow shred her to pieces as the eyes of Kumari watch in distress. In another, while the beast donning a bhadgaunle topi (hat) leaps greedily onto a chair, the cow stares at it, all powerless. Dismantled traffic lights, electric wires, dysfunctional bulbs, cows milked excessively till they bleed, and alarming temple bells are some repeatedly used themes and images in her paintings.

For colors, Ragini sticks to bright yellow, pink, green, red and white, keeping in tune with the festive spirit of Gai Jatra. Cows are also ornamented likewise in the festival. However, the painter says it reminds her of “how politicians use the name of public in their speeches in very ornamented and different ways for the sake of public support, but they aren’t even concerned about what the public wants.”

Though filled with symbolism, the viewers will easily be able to relate and empathize with Ragini’s paintings.

“I see Nepal in a permanent Gai Jatra situation,” says Ragini about the unending political feuds and chaotic situation in the country. And for the awareness of all this, she has echoed her wake-up call through her symbolic images in the paintings.

Ragini’s Gai Jatra works will be on display at the said venue till September 20, and for a Gai Jatra fun, this artistic parody is not to be missed out on.

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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Opening of Double Vision in Gallery Epreuve d’Artiste – Nepalese artists in Antwerpen - Belgium

A nice crowd gathered for the exhibit regrouping for the fourth time, the prints of the Ragini Upadhyay, Seema Sharma Shah, Gea Karhof and Nan Mulder. Ragini Upadhayay and Seema Sharma are established Nepalese artists, Gea Karhof and Nan Mulder are originally Dutch but Nan lives now in Edinburgh. The group had previously displayed their work together in Edinburgh, Kathmandu and Haarlem

On first October 2010, a heavy evening rain was an uninvited guest but it did not deterred, the Nepalese ambassador and several members of the Nepalese Embassy in Belgium to come to honour some of the most celebrated artists of Nepal.

His Excellency P.K Hamal spoke highly about the convergence in humanity that these East-West artistic gathering produce. He emphasised the mutual enrichment and deepening of cultural roots resulting from the show.

Gea and Nan explained how their journeys in Nepal, India, Sri Lanka have influenced their work both in shape and concepts.

Ragini developed her vision of an omnipotent Time that she represents very graphically in her Time Wheel series. She added a few words about the Third Eye of the Kumari which allows to see beyond the appearances.

The combination of the four artists provides a unique echo chamber of artistic and philosophical concepts. The cultural continuum is remarkable despite the strong individuality of the artists.

The exhibition is hosted by Chris Verheyen at the Gallery Epreuve d’Artiste in Oudekerkstraat 64, 2018 Antwerpen. The display lasts until the 17 October 2010. The gallery can be contacted by email : or telephone :03/238.68. 58 . Opening hours : 14 to 18 on Saturdays and Sundays ; on appointment only during week days.

The photos of the opening on :

More on the artists web pages :,, ,

Albert Grela

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A walk in the clouds

By Anwer Mooraj

Sunday, 21 Feb, 2010

Most visitors who flocked to the well-publicised exhibition of the Nepali artist Ragini Upadhyay Grela at Gallery 919, Karachi, on February 13 were somewhat mystified by what they saw. Perhaps it was because Grela’s work was unlike anything they had come across before. Or because they felt there was certain ambivalence about her art which appeared at once both childlike and highly sophisticated and had to be viewed with a morbid relish.

Habitués of exhibitions in Karachi are accustomed to tasting the fruits of realism and occasional forays into the world of the abstract—towards which a large number of local young painters is gravitating. The symbolic and emblematic imagery that this cerebral artist from Katmandu presented, though it was classy and urbane, had for many viewers a disparaging uniqueness to which they could not relate.

But if the visitor probed a little deeper, he would uncover a world of fantasy, hope and enlightenment. ‘Love in the Air’, the title of the exhibition, is faithful to the script. Everything that moves does so high above the ground, way up in the clouds.

Though there appears a constant striving for man and woman to come together as they whimsically frolic on a celestial trapeze, the love that the artist is trying to portray has a much deeper significance.

It has an almost subliminal, religious base, and is, in fact, a discourse on the love for God, the Creator of all things. Underlying the theme are the symbols of globalisation which, along with historical buildings and monuments, insinuate themselves into every frame and run like a thread through the fabric of the pictorial dissertation.

The items that were common to most of the compositions were the popular tourist structures that one sees on picture postcards, along with TV and computer screens and mobile phones. Often the women are portrayed as avenging deities and even the goddesses Laxmi and Saraswati, and the Buddhist goddess Nairatma appear conversant with the accoutrements of modern technology.

Sangita Thapa, curator of the Siddhartha Gallery in Katmandu, once pointed out that Grela often portrays the female form as enlightened beings that make satirical comments on the failings of politicians.

Among other pictures that the visitor saw was a nude riding an elephant over a tilting church steeple and pagoda; a couple on a horse or kissing somewhere in the stratosphere with a telephone wire and cradle dangling from the woman’s calf; a woman with the head of a bird sitting on a cell phone; a couple flying over Big Ben and the Taj Mahal while the Statue of Liberty clutches a mobile phone; a woman flying towards a pram; a snake flying over buildings; a woman on an albatross; women and children flying over the Blue Mosque; a couple atop a quartet of galloping horses after somebody has pulled away the chariot.

The Eiffel Tower also pops up somewhere and there is even a woman wearing hijab sailing through the breeze on a flying carpet! And somehow or other, a bull found himself on top of a factory chimney.

Altogether, there were 32 exhibits, including digital works manually enhanced on canvas, etchings in mixed media and two ‘unique prints’ whose prices ranged between Rs40,000 and 50,000. Each of the four acrylics in which real gold was used on a traditional canvas was priced at Rs476,256.

Grela is very much a part of mainstream Nepali art—along with Urmila Upadhayay Garg, Pramila Giri and Shashi Kala Tiwari—all worthy successors to the pioneer women painters Jawala Shama, Bhadru Kumari and Sihi Pyari.

Grela has had considerable international exposure. She has studied in Germany and the United Kingdom, and is married to a Belgian. She has a formidable personal record of 56 solo exhibitions and has participated in 14 group shows where she always strives to be the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree. Outside of Nepal and India, her works have been seen in Belgium, Poland, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Austria and Japan.

She has also had numerous appointments and has bagged three prizes and awards, one of which was in the United Kingdom. People who bought her works reside in 24 countries scattered around the globe.

The display which was inaugurated by Mushtaq Chhapra, honorary consul general for Nepal, was her third solo offering in Karachi. It is one that will stay in the mind for a long time.

Love in the Air - Karachi

Love in the Air - Metaphors of love

Text and photos by Ameer H Ahmad

KARACHI: Nepali artist Ragini Upadhyay Grela is in Karachi once again for her solo exhibition at the Galleria 919 titled “Love in the Air”, the realisation of which has been with her since 2008.

Thanking the 21st century technological advancements, which have reduced distances between loved ones, she said she could feel the love in the air, wherever she looked.

She said the widespread use of computers and mobile phones has made communicating easier with the person you love, as it reduces distances not just between lovers, but also between families and friends.

In this series of works, she celebrates both technology and lovers together, combining elements like computers, mobile phones and keyboards with half-animal and half-human figures.

Figures fly across famous landmarks like the Taj Mahal, Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China; and physical distances and cultural divides melt away as these figures communicate their love through the air.

She has replaced some of the traditional attributes of Hindu Goddesses such as Laxmi or Sarwasti with the modern tools of knowledge and financial power.

Lotus, clubs, bows are turned into mobile phones and computers.

In some of her works, she has used the traditional Thanka painting technique with real gold and silver paint. Her work echoes with the works of Marc Chagall, a Russian-French artist, but hers is transcontinental and modern.

She combines references from the east and the west, an insight into which she gained during her studies in India, England and Germany, and through her extensive travels all over the world.

Grela draws inspiration from both secular and mythological sources, the latter from Hindu and Buddhist myths.

She is a symbolic artist and it is constantly visible in her work.

She has had more then 70 solo and group exhibitions in more then 23 countries.

She is a graduate of Fine Arts from Lucknow University and is a member of the Oxford Printmakers, and her first exhibition was held in 1979 in Nepal. Having been a visiting lecturer at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture; the Karachi School of Arts; and the School of Art and Design, Jamshoro, this is her third solo show in Karachi and she has had two solo exhibitions and one group exhibition in Pakistan.

The gallery will continue the exhibition of her paintings and prints until February 27.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Love in the Air travels to Karachi

The invitations have been printed and the Honorary Consul of Nepal, the Honourable Mushtaq K. Chhapra will be the chief guest. The show opens on February 13 2010 at 5:30 pm at the Galleria 919 ( ).

It is located :
108/2 3rd Avenue.
Block-5. Clifton.
Karachi. Pakistan.
Phone: +92 21 5833681-2
Fax: +92 21 5871286

The exhibition will be on display until the Saturday 27 th February 2010

You could have a look at the online presentation :

The other URL : provides a more comprehensive coverage.

I hope to see many of you during the exhibition.

Cheers !!!!