Review by Oiendrila Moitra
December 15, 2013


When High and Low Art Meet…
Curated by Rupika Chawla

November 27-December 2, 2013
Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi  

December 5, 2013-February 28, 2014
Art Alive Gallery, Gurgaon – 122002, Haryana 

Art Alive in Lalit Kala Academy showcased a group show by Rupika Chawla titled “When high art meets low art…” This show showcases artworks of some of the biggest names of the art fraternity of the capital.

 The Director of Art Alive gallery, Sunaina Anand exhibited this show states that it is a very unique presentation of art works as it follows the idea of representation and display converging with the concept of Raja Ravi Verma’s oleograph prints. Oleograph was a technique used for large scale quality color printing. In India, until Ravi Verma’s prints, Oleographs were used for gaudy ‘calendar art’ and commodity packaging. As quoted by Nanak Ganguly, an eminent art historian, “the arrival of Raja Ravi Varma's oleographs into the scene coincided with the construction of new cultural elite the arbiters of middle class taste.” Ravi Verma’s oleographs have in the past stimulated the imagery of a few contemporary Indian artists.

 This particular display brought about 33 artists who worked in different mediums but tried to take their basic note of inspirations from Ravi Verma’s oleograph prints. But with this exhibition it would be provocative to speculate on the idea of the oleographs as catalysts, as offered to a larger group of Indian artists. Few artists whose works connotes to the idea of inspiration were like Anjolie Ela Menon, Paresh Maity, B. Manjunath Kamath, etc.

 Rupika Chawla, the curator of the show mentioned that in the title ‘low art’ denotes the oleograph prints as a medium of low art. Her idea was to provoke the artists’ to create artworks directly or indirectly related to the concept or visual of the oleographs by Ravi Verma. Artists contemporize their works with themes like ecological degradation, social issues and creating a connection between cinema and mythology. The exhibition deals with a strong curatorial subject.

 Artists like Komu are successful in creating movements and milestones. His series ‘Stoned Goddesses’ steals the short-lived moments of peace you would want to seek out of “low art”. Over nine pieces of litho stone, Komu inscribes the reminders of sectarian violence, riots and hostile situations that have “fractured” the country and changed the course of its pain-ridden history. Komu wanted to go back to litho stone “to create an idea around it.”

 He says, “It’s a very tedious process, much minimized approach. I have screen-printed on it. I am not taking the print out of the stone.” He won’t look at art very “romantically”. The last milestone — of the 2002 Gujarat riots is nauseating. Komu thanks Ravi Verma for having “taught us how we approach the myth, the Gods and Goddesses in a very sincere way”. In his contemporary time, people somewhat dismissed the ideology and contextualization of Raja Ravi Verma. But he is still relevant in the presence and legacy of myth and iconography he had created. We got a chance to reinterpret, revisit how we conceive myths and Gods and Goddesses in our consciousness.

 As there were few foreign artists like Waswo X Waswo, the interconnectivity of the two distinct cultural worlds is visible through the representation of the technique and bhava, handsome witty men and yakshis. All have recreated the magic of connection between ‘high’ and ‘low’.

 This exhibition brings new meaning to the fusion of the so-called ‘low’ art of Ravi Verma’s Oleograph and the inspiration derived thereof by contemporary Indian artists to make their own so-called ‘high’ art. Through this show of the contemporaries, lies concealed the layers of the political and social context of labeling art in art art-history. The interconnectivity of “low art” and “high art” may well be sometimes a technical connotation that comes through the supporting socio-political strands. The show somewhat distinct and blur the boundary line between the two coinage of words and depicts an overall process of making art and art history. The display was quite vividly done. An ‘intellectual rebirth’ can be more than ‘reforming’.