Speaking for rivers and trees

From The Week, June 8, 2012.

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.

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One thought on “Speaking for rivers and trees

  1. I read it in the paper earlier. I especially liked the picture of Tulsi. Our current generation is in transition and that pictures resembles most of modern working women who find time for religious purposes as well.

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