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Raja Ravi Varma’s oleographs inspire contemporary artists

Madhur Tankha
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Exhibits include works by Anjolie Ela Menon, Paresh Maity, B. Manjunath Kamath

Curator Rupika Chawla at the “When High and Low Art Meet” exhibition at the Lalit Kala Akademi in New Delhi on Tuesday.— Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma
Curator Rupika Chawla at the “When High and Low Art Meet” exhibition at the Lalit Kala Akademi in New Delhi on Tuesday.— Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

Deriving inspiration from legendary artist Raja Ravi Varma’s iconic oleographs, a group of contemporary artists have produced a series of art works for an eight-day exhibition, which was inaugurated at the Lalit Kala Akademi here on Tuesday.

Titled “When High and Low Art Meet”, the exhibition features paintings by the who’s who of the art world like Anjolie Ela Menon, Jogen Chowdhury, Paresh Maity, B. Manjunath Kamath and G. R. Iranna.

Speaking to The Hindu , curator Rupika Chawla, synonymous with penning a voluminous illustrated book on Ravi Varma, said the iconic artist produced a series of oleographs because he wanted them to be available to the common man.

“Low art”

“These oleographs were distributed across the country. A century later, Ravi Varma’s oleographs continue to be relevant. For a century, stories of his work were repeated and became part of popular culture. Inexpensive oleographs were classified as low art. So over 30 contemporary painters were invited to produce works for the exhibition, where the primary source of inspiration was Ravi Varma’s oleographs.”

She complimented all the artists for contemporarising their works with themes like ecological degradation, social issues and creating a connection between cinema and mythology.

“Ravi Varma’s choice of visual imagery for his oleographs was based on the popular culture of his time. While frontal images of Gods and Goddesses were the obvious big draws, mythological stories that enthralled the public at large for centuries were turned into oleographs,” she added.

Impressed with the way the artists have given different interpretations to the iconic artist’s oleographs, artist Shamshad Husain said Rupika had done a commendable job of selecting talented artists for this extraordinary exhibition.

“Ravi Varma’s oleographs have impressed not only the artist fraternity but people from all walks of life. My father M. F. Husain was honest enough to admit that he was influenced by a number of artists. Ravi Varma was one of them.”

According to Art Alive Gallery director Sunaina Anand, the curatorial venture was designed in a way to make the exhibition of a long duration.

“The exhibition deals with a strong curatorial subject. I invited the curator to conceptualise the exhibition. Rupika told me the concept and I found it intriguing. Ravi Varma’s imagery have been relooked by the Indian artists.”

The exhibition, which includes the participation of Ram Rahman, Raghu Rai and Himanshu Verma, culminates on December 2. After that it will travel to Art Alive Gallery in Gurgaon, where it stay on till February.

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