Sunday, June 10, 2012

Speaking for rivers and trees in paintings

Ragini Upadhyay Grela’s current exhibition, “Nature Speaks,” at Solace International Designs in Lazimpat, Kathmandu, sets the stage for other ongoing and upcoming art events in the second half of 2012.

Alliance Francaise kicked off its six-month event, “Planet Nepal: Festival of Arts and Environment” on June 5, while Siddhartha Arts Foundation will be hosting the second Kathmandu International Art Festival titled “Earth│Body│Mind” in November end.

What they all have in common is the underlying environmental messages which are being and will be conveyed through works of art.

While the two Festivals will have a large number of artists participating, Ragini goes solo in her initiative to highlight the 21st century’s environmental woes, with a total of 51 acrylic and watercolor paintings.

“I can’t help but feel the anger of Nature…She is giving back to us what we have given Her,” states Grela about her latest series in which she interprets nature’s distress as humans dirty rivers, cut down trees and pollute the air.

Although different in terms of subject matter from her usual paintings and prints, which are laden with political commentaries, Grela maintains her bold satirical approach in Nature Speaks. More importantly, she uses a recurring form in her works to symbolize nature – a goddess.

“Clean Us” (acrylic on canvas) depicts a goddess swimming in a river and picking up garbage, with white gloves and socks on. But interestingly, the rest of her body remains unclothed. The goddess holds a bottle in one hand, as the other hand tries to reach out to some floating fruits that were probably offered to her by her devotees.

“Ragini challenges her fellow Hindus who worship the rivers with one hand and pollute it with the other,” comments Michelle Winston, the Director of Solace International Designs, who has been friends with Ragini for years now.

In “Suffocating Bishnumati River,” Grela creates a sweeping motion for water, again personified by a goddess. On one hand, it appears like she is gushing down with great force from the mountains, and on the other hand, the goddess could be attempting to flee the chaos within her. The watercolor painting gives us only a small glimpse of the state of our rivers. What we see for ourselves in reality when we walk or drive along the banks of Bishnumati River or Bagmati is much worse.

Rivers asides, trees also appear in the form of deities and humans. The sacred tree of Tulsi is embodied by a woman dressed in pants and a vest. She stands on her pedestal holding an umbrella and a computer mouse. A single leaf springs out of a cord, a motif that recurs in the series.

These paintings with mutli-armed Tulsi takes us back to her works in the series ‘Love in the Air’ from 2008 where keyboards, computer monitors and cell phones had replaced the traditional iconography of Hindu goddesses.

The clash between modernization and religious values continues to be a major theme of her works, and she aptly makes references to it again, in Nature Speaks.

Majority of the colors in Grela’s paintings aren’t particularly pleasing to look at. Dark browns, grays and greens blend and flow into each other, especially in the watercolor works, to create muddy combinations – almost like the colors themselves are polluted.

The whole series has an eerie undertone with its subdued colors which are not visually attractive, yet serves the purpose of the issue at hand.

Adding to this eeriness are images of anthropomorphized trees with frail and disjoint limbs, clad in shoes and socks yet naked and vulnerable, oversized heads and snakelike eyes with titles such as ‘Protect Our Future,’ ‘Dream for You,’ and ‘Afflicted Avatar.’

Be it anger, pain or suffering, the emotions that Grela conveys of nature, as it speaks to her, come across as disturbing and grim – relevant to the real prevalent situations in Nepal.

“Nature Speaks” will be on show at Solace International Designs on Radisson Hotel Road, Lazimpat, until June 18, 2012. Gallery hours are from 11 am to 7 pm; closed on Saturdays.

Burathoki is the contributing Arts Editor for The Week.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Living Gods And Goddesses In Climate Change

My latest series NATURE SPEAKS is inspired by Nature's suffering and devastation. Cutting trees, dumping waste in river and sea, polluting the air endlessly with our cars all for the sake of human comfort cannot continue without consequences. Climate change is Nature's response and the result is in the violence of earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes etc. I can't help but feel the anger of Nature when I see proof of these devastating events as if She is giving back to us what we have given Her.
The present climate change is the result of our negligence and ignorance toward Nature. When I am close to a river, sea or forest I try to understand their unspoken language and feelings. They speak to me of pain, suffering, unbalance, injustice and worries for the future. My paintings are a translation of the woes of Nature.
As humans we think only of our needs as valuable but truly we are forgetting how dependent we are on the light of the sun, water of the glacier and oxygen released by plants. We should remember how dependent we are on Nature for our lives. As we respect our lives we should respect the cycles of Nature. I have made the great forces and forms of Nature resemble humans as well as Gods and Goddesses in Hindu mythology in a quest to illustrate our need to think of Nature as God Herself. Here I question the Hindus who profess to worship the river Ganga and Bagmati as most sacred while polluting them with foul smelling human waste. How can a Hindu worship a Pipai tree with thread and incense believing in the God in the branches while cutting and choking other trees? My work illustrates that Nature is God both male and female dressed in our shoes and socks for protection which they need as our human bodies need.

Explanation About Few Works
My Parijat tree, symbol of love in female form, is pregnant which whose the dream of a tree for her future as a woman!
My River Goddess is unhappy because the water is so polluted that she must wear gloves, the fish are running away from the dirty water, and she is forced to clear out the rubbish. She is show sweating and furious arriving from the high mountain glacier.
My Monkey God, Hanuman, has lost his forest of Sanjivini.
The Air God is angry as he pushes down the old car belching black smoke. His fury shows as a bird dies in his hand choked by pollution. The forest of trees disappears as the forest of tyres touches the sky.
My Buddha wears socks in order to protect Nature and Peace in the world.
All my tulsi, medicinal plant, are in modern dress to show the importance of tulsi even in the 21St century !
Ganesh (the elephant god) with grass (duboo) Lord Shiva with Bel patra (tree) Lotus with Goddess Laxmi show the connection between GOD and NATURE which also show the importance of nature.
Umbrellas, socks, shoes are used here as symbol for protection that they all need today.
It is our duty to protect and love Nature with space and respect. It is in our own interest because if Nature dies we all die.
Remember that if we ruin Nature She will find a way to continue but we may not.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Live and let live

KATHMANDU: Nature is the supreme manifestation of power that exists on earth and the Hindus regard natural resources like river, plants, Sun and more as various forms of divine gods and goddess. However, due to the selfish wants of human, the environment is degraded everyday creating an adverse effect on the natural surroundings and the human themselves.

Artist Ragini Upadhyay-Grela’s new exhibition ‘Nature Speaks’ delves into this very topic. The exhibition on at the Blue Note Cafe, Lazimpat began from May 19.

In ‘Tulsi in Modern Time’ piece, she has created a white background where the Tulsi is personified as a Hindu Goddess. Goddess Tulsi is coloured green dressed in a modern attire like jeans pants and a tee-shirt, with six hands and carrying six different items like mobile, leaf, flower, diyo, vessel and rock and sitting on a stand light brown and white in colour, which is usually used for keeping Tulsi for worshipping. In the piece, Grela has portrayed that Tulsi had medicinal values in ancient times and still has, hence the modern attire.

Grela shares, “Tulsi is known for its medicinal value from the ancient period and my Tulsi is wearing a modern dress to show the importance of its medicinal value even in the 21st century.”

The formation of structures while personifying the natural objects are interesting and can strike one’s mind and convince the viewer that nature needs protection. But her works also suggest that nature will find a way to continue, but humans may not.

The human touch given to the nature’s works with arms and legs look unusual but with Grela’s bent of artistic imagination they have an elegence of their own. One cannot help but appreciate the flow in the work.

Her works in this exhibition has nature’s motifs of basil plant, peepal tree, banyan tree, night jasmine, rivers and air all personified and symbolised like various deities like Vishnu, Krishna, Buddha, Kumari, and more. She has given modern attires to some of the personified forms of nature, whereas some female personifications are portrayed nude. According to Grela, all natural things are personified and attired in modern clothes as they are also seeking protection as humans who also wear clothes for protection.

Grela has used watercolour and acrylic on canvas where colours like green, blue, white, brown, red, yellow and more dominate her painting.

Ten per cent of the sales of her painting will be donated to the Kevin Rohan Memorial Eco Foundation.

The exhibition will continue till June 18.