Art & Soul – Ragini Upadhayay

“Life is a journey that puts you through despair and contentment in equal measure. It’s your attitude that decides how long both will exist,” shares famed Nepali artist, Ragini Upadhayay and the first woman chancellor of Nepal Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA).

She also says that success isn’t about what you accomplish in your life, rather it’s about what you inspire others to do.

Ragini recently founded the Shivata Love Foundation in memory of her daughter.

The Shivata Love Foundation is a non-profit organisation founded in Belgium and Nepal. It started from the idea of the parents of Shivata Upadhayay Grela, a 20 year old who was caught by the meningitis B bacteria and in less than 24 hours sadly left this world. The Foundation in Belgium raises awareness on meningitis B vaccine, while in Nepal it provides scholarship for the full education of underprivileged girls from rural Nepal.

Coming through great personal loss, Ragini is a strong woman who understands pain.

Over the year she has stood at the front of the evolving art scene in Nepal recognised for creativity and passion for arts.

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Ragini’s Wishes… on display in China

Ragini Upadhyay Grela’s artworks are on display in the exhibition series ‘Wishes…’ at Wang Xiao Hui Museum, Suzhou, China.

Artist Ragini Upadhyay Grela’s artworks symbolising climate change and ecosystem among others are on display in the exhibition series ‘Wishes…’ at Wang Xiao Hui Museum, Suzhou, China.

The 60th solo exhibition of Upadhyay Grela features 52 works created using different mediums like water colour, colograph, etching, painting and more as per a press release issued by the artist.

The exhibition series is inspired by Upadhyay Grela’s visit to China in September 2015 — like its title ‘Wishes…’, her works symbolise the fact that wishes of human being around the world are same, be it China or Nepal or any other place.

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Work of Nepali artist exhibited in Suzhou, China

RAGINI Upadhyay Grela, as one of the most internationally renowned artists in Nepal, is having her solo exhibition at Wang Xiaohui Art Museum in Suzhou near Pingjiang Road through February 8. This is the 60th exhibition for Grela around the world. The exhibition features nearly 50 canvas, water-colors and prints created by her. 

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Ragini chancellor

Asian Art News complete review

The Relentless Critic

Nepalese artist Ragini Upadhyay Grela has never been afraid to ask questions through her art, which has revitalized the satirical tradition of social commentary in the art of Nepal. She is exceptional in identifying contemporary ills be they of the environment or socio-political issues.

By Kurchi Dasgupta 

Divided Nepal, Acrylic on canvas, 2009

Nepal’s art world is dominated by men. Hindu and Buddhist religious paintings, for example, such as the Newar paubha and the Tibetan thangka are traditionally made by men. Western influenced academic and modernist traditions as well as contemporary art have been so dominated by a male vision that the emergence of distinct female voices in art—such as that of Ragini Upadhayay Grela—introduced a new worldview and visual language. Art historians have summarized the phenomenon “as the profession of painting was traditionally a man’s world, contemporary art produced by Nepali women speaks forcefully of a shift towards a perception of a world often centring around their gendered identities: of self, body politics, gender and sexuality.” Ragini Upadhayay Grela, who was born in 1959, is one of the most important artists in Nepal. And with nearly 60 solo exhibitions in Asia and Europe she is perhaps the most prolific woman artist of her generation. She moves as well with ease between printmaking and painting. 

Ragini Upadhayay from Kathmandu visits Alex Saemmer, carpet creator in Lehel, Germany

Ragini in Lehel, Germany, 2013

Ragini Upadhyay ist ein brand name in der Kunstszene Nepals, wo sie seit 30 Jahren als Malerin und Graphikerin tätig ist. Sie ist Urheberin des Künstlerinnenverbandes Wagon (Women Artists’ Group of Nepal) und betreibt seit zwei Jahren eine Druckerei, die sie jungen Graphikern gratis zur Verfügung stellt. Mit bislang 25 Gruppen- und an die 60 Einzelausstellungen rund um die Welt ist sie auch international bei Kunstliebhabern ein rising star.

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Ragini sings through her art

Nepalese Printmaker Ragini Upaydhyay briefs about her work. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD JAVAID

ISLAMABAD: Salvador Dali once said, “Progressive art can assist people to learn not only about the objective forces at work in the society, but also about the intensely social character of their interior lives. Ultimately, it can propel people toward social emancipation.”

Keeping in line with his thought, Ragini Upadhyay Grela is one contemporary artist, continuously growing and evolving to add creative aesthetic to her work. After being in the business for almost 32 years with 70 odd exhibitions under her belt, Upadhyay’s work is housed by royalty in Nepal and India, along with private and commercial collectors around the globe.

“The energy that South Asian women possess is fantastic and that is what Ragini captures in essence in her work,” said Arjumand, owner of Gallery 6. “There is a new imagery every time and that is the sign of a creative mind and a true artist,” she added.

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Art attack on Gaijatra

Divided Nepal, 2009 I Acrylic on Canvas I 91x76cm

A unique visual of Nepali politics is on display at Siddhartha Art Gallery in Kathmandu. This is an exhibition of paintings executed by the well-known mature artist Ragini Upadhyay Grela. She has used oil, drawings and intaglio in her works. One afternoon, I visited the gallery to see her paintings mainly executed round the theme of current Nepali politics. The occasion was Gaijatra, literally translated as cow festival, which is a famous Newar festival. This day triggers ambivalent impulses of fun and sadness. Fun is associated with sadness because Pratap Malla’s queen, inconsolable after the death of their son, had laughed at seeing the fun and frolic created on this occasion. According to historians, the origin of this festival can be traced from much earlier times. However, the dead become the motif of the festival on this day. A combination of street performativity and memory of the dead constitute the uniqueness of this culture.

But when I met this artist fluently interpreting her entire art to show the weakness of Nepali politics and politicians, I became very pensive. I have done art criticism since 1971; and as a theatre person, I have used the wisdom, semiotics and symbolism of this festival for my plays as well as for my book on the history of Nepali theatre. But what struck me here was the sheer politics—the burlesque and the anti-climactic moments of Nepali politics created in art form. I know Nepali politics is not the sublime; it is not the only subject of discussion among Nepali artists and writers. But to see this Nepali artist with an international reputation dwelling passionately on the current absurdities that she sees in Nepali politics is a subject of tremendous significance. It raises questions of the following nature.

Has the current political imbroglio so completely dominated Nepali artists’ imaginaire as in this exhibition? Has Nepali art always been so responsive to the political consequences of current Nepali history? Why did the artist become so sensitive to the present state of stalemate in negotiations among the parties? I have heard about the bravado of artists and some writers about the political changes and being sensitive to the events in the past years. Some have used the often-repeated stories of their involvement in creating history as artists. But what is never seen is the picture of Nepali history when it was embroiled in the 10-year war.

No artist has significantly made any paintings on the fate of those who have lost their lives, lost their properties and become victims of war and homeless. We tried to talk to war victims from different places in the country for theatre. Their stories were heart-rending, but performing the same was not possible because the people who would be linked to the events would not allow the show to go ahead in their areas.

To artists and writers, that somber history mostly remained invisible. Of course, some good works have been written. Semioticists found the impact, the devastation and the faces of the victims and their plight photogenic. Important and sleek volumes have been published; exhibitions have been held in different parts of the country. It is easy to do photographic works and media dissemination of the same. But to execute a similar number of paintings or sculpt works on the gory themes and disseminate the same is not possible for painters and artists.

Poets have been going to different places and reading their symbolic poems. Plays have been taken to villages and performed by good theatre artists. But for artists, it is not easy to take their works and exhibit them in different places. The question why comes up. The answer is that artists cannot execute paintings as easily in different situations as media people can manage it.

Artist Durga Baral made strong paintings about the war and cartoons of the cow metaphor; several young artists to have executed paintings about the war and its consequences. But of necessity, they had to choose galleries to exhibit them. Very few people go to see the paintings.

But Ragini’s intaglios and drawings have drawn so much attention recently in the capital. Her fluent interpretation of her figures did not make me feel happy. I quietly wanted to see her exquisite works on my own. She is a very talented artist. Her lines are amazing. She draws lines without using erasers or pencils. In her intaglio, her combination of colours is powerful and charming. Her print works are very fine; she can give an expressionistic mode to her print works. Many artists who use her medium have ended up in the twilight zone of decorative and expressive art. But Ragini has transcended that. She has exhibited her works in Europe, India and Nepal. She is one of the few Nepali artists who sell their works at good prices. In this exhibition, I found her drawings very interesting and powerful. Though it takes her less time to execute them, they impressed me, I must confess, more than her much-hyped intaglio cow figures and figurines in some cases.

Ragini’s cow images are amazingly beautiful despite the burden of the bizarre theme she attributes to them. Her cows are dismembered. Some of them are in the belly of the lion that has devoured her. They yield not milk but explosives; people are exploiting her. The cow is people, suavity and the country. Lions are cheats. People are dishonest. But it is a different experience to see these bizarre figures. They do not frighten the viewers. The cows, even in their precariously imposed symbolism by the artist, give the impression of folktales and fables.

But what I find difficult and also feel intrigued about is the combination of fables and fabulation. Ragini like a Christian artist valorising a Christian theme is projecting the Hindu holy-cowism in her works. That could be a limitation; but for Hindu viewers and others who know the culture, that is a natural symbolism. But the paintings and the rhetoric of the artist exaggerate the so-called evil of politics. Valorising the holiness of the cow and feudal Hindu values, abusing the democratic system of government and the present state of political awareness, and ignoring the multiple openings of consciousness is not a progressive concept in art.

A cow’s body parts are falling off. The artist and the media said that this was the dissolution of the country’s body under a federal structure. The news spread; and I was told that Chitra Bahadur K.C., an anti-federalist communist leader, was going to speak on it at the gallery. That would perhaps be K.C.’s first painting encounter in life. But he would speak about his usual politics, not about art.

Ragini is a very good artist; she is a good friend. I will tell her what I feel about her work. But I would like to warn the politicians of this country that their reputation is plummeting; and very soon it will go down in people’s psyche through art, songs, poems, stories and folklore. Better change your ways and write the constitution before you are given permanent places of tricksters in paintings and folktales. Remember, the people’s patience with your politics is running out.

Abhi Subedi
Originally posted on: 2010-09-01 08:37

Foreign palette: A walk in the clouds

Dawn, 21st February 2010

Most visitors who flocked to the well-publicised exhibition of the Nepali artist Ragini Upadhyay Grela at Gallery 919, Karachi, on February 13 were somewhat mystified by what they saw. Perhaps it was because Grela’s work was unlike anything they had come across before. Or because they felt there was certain ambivalence about her art which appeared at once both childlike and highly sophisticated and had to be viewed with a morbid relish.

“Habitués” of exhibitions in Karachi are accustomed to tasting the fruits of realism and occasional forays into the world of the abstract—towards which a large number of local young painters is gravitating. The symbolic and emblematic imagery that this cerebral artist from Katmandu presented, though it was classy and urbane, had for many viewers a disparaging uniqueness to which they could not relate.

But if the visitor probed a little deeper, he would uncover a world of fantasy, hope and enlightenment. ‘Love in the Air’, the title of the exhibition, is faithful to the script. Everything that moves does so high above the ground, way up in the clouds.

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