This article was originally published in the Kathmandu Post (2005-05-18)
Politics of wheel
By ABHI SUBEDI
The walls of Sangita Thapa’s Siddhartha Art Gallery at Babarmahal Revisited have become vertical stage to me. Over the year I have watched the Nepali times, the somersaults of this nation’s history staged on these non-descript walls. After the drama of Nepali violent history presented almost in a neo-realist style by Durga Baral last winter on these walls, a series of drawings, etching and mixed media works executed by artist Ragini Upadhyaya Grela titled “Time Wheel” representing political times are on display at the moment. Siddhartha gallery has become a next Gurukul where the drama of politics and the spectres created by Nepali power games are staged time and again. Incidentally, Ragini’s exhibition was opened with the performance of a short silent play about time by the Gurukul artists. Saugat Malla’s powerful body theatre presented the drama of time that surges ahead leaving those who can or can not grab it behind.
An overtly political drama if it is hung on the walls of the gallery of art becomes a cliché, evoking banality and creating déjà vu effect. Conspicuous walls in the metropolitan areas become the stage especially when the times in the national history become turbulent. Demonstrators, political activists, rebels and propagandists use the walls to stage their different versions of drama in the forms of posters, wall scribbles, drawings and sometimes just colours. But the walls of a regular art gallery hang more structured images and icons of political history. Ragini’s drawings and intaglio works have brought new power and new condition of watching the subtleties of Nepali politics on the wall-stage of Siddhartha gallery at the moment. At this exhibition of the works, great number of which are already sold out, the artist Ragini Upadhyaya Grela wearing long vertical tika of a serious yogin on her forehead escorts the visitors giving eloquent speech about the themes of her works. I try my best to avoid her interpretation and concentrate on her works because there is a great gap and a necessary one between her theorising which sounds sometimes banal, and her strong and charming works that hang on both the upper and lower floors of Siddhartha.
Ragini theorises that time is evanescent; those people who were there in the past are no longer there today and we too will go away one day. These places will continue to exist and we will not be there. Time is mightier than all of us. That is her linear theory about time. An artist does not have to be a Bergeson, a Nietzsche, a Balakrishna Sama or a Michel Foucault to talk about the intricacies of the times. The artist has her/his way of looking into the philosophical questions. The most important trajectory that an artist follows to get into a philosophical world is created through mythology. But what an artist does through the medium of her works is beyond the capacity of many philosophers.
Ragini combines politics, myth and love in each of her works. The images of Nepali politics from Damodar Pande to Sher Bahadur Deuba on the people’s front and the Shah monarchs on the royal front become part of Ragini’s historical philosophy as conjured through a system of mythology, and her works are strong and striking.
The concept of wheel in this exhibition is remarkably original. The wheel of time or the politics of wheel is the main metaphor. Ragini’s drawings and collage works create a circular concept of time. The clock-like circularity is created by the collage of Nepali power wielders’ photographs–from the monarchs of the Shah dynasty to the prime ministers that ends with Deuba in the circle. Ragini’s vision of the wheel is mytho-poetic. She finds the historical times as constructed history. Time without politics and persona is amorphous for her. But time measured with the people who have held power and created the Nepali times runs the risk of representing times that are not seen from the eyes of the common people. An artist’s responsibility is to open the possibility of viewing the times from fresh perspectives. To see time from the positions and durations spanned by the rule of the powerful persons is to create a politics of wheel power. Many power players have created such images of history. Now we have a tendency to deconstruct the concept of controlled times.
But the power of Ragini’s works lies in the very quality of the works. She is the best intaglio artist in Nepal who creates very subtle effects in her works. The minute details are taken care of. She paints and touches the etchings with love, life and colour. The drawings, etching and mixed media works on display at Sidhartha precisely show that. These works lure the viewers into the world of history, politics and myth by using the metaphor “wheel of time” which is the charming recreation of the myth that combines dreams with the sense of finality. But the love of life and continuity becomes stronger in these works because of the artist’s subtle treatment of subject through the use of lines, colours and figurality.