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Celebrating Freedom of Expression Through The Genius Of Raja Ravi Varma

October 3, 2014 | By

Because Raja Ravi Varma oleographed his original paintings, he was able to reach millions of Indian households, especially as he was copied by the other printing presses and the advertising fraternity which were using the Indian Gods and Goddesses as the brand ambassadors for encouraging Indian consumerism, at least until the 1960s’/early 1970s’. The film stars only came into their own as brand ambassadors much later.

Seminar/Panel Debate: Today (Oct 3), 11 am onwards
Exhibition of oleographs, lithographs and advertisements: October 3 – 5
Venue: Tao Art Gallery, 165, The View, Dr Annie Besant Road, Worli.
Call: 24918585
Entry: Free

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Taking a firm step ahead into the world of learning and education, The Osian’s Group is celebrating the vibrant creative genius of Raja Ravi Varma in a unique exhibition of antiquarian oleographs, lithographs and advertisements titled ‘Godly prints – Gaudy and/or Visionary’, starting today.

This Osian’s Archive Exhibition, being held at the Tao Art Gallery in Mumbai, from Oct 3 – 5, is the first in the series of 52 live events organized and curated by Osianama so as to develop and nurture the synergies between the physical and the virtual.

Neville Tuli, Founder & Chairman of the Osian’s Group flagged off the Seminar with his Talk on the “Potential Impact of the Osian’s Archive, Osianama and on research, learning and education for the Indian arts, cinema and culture.” Twenty years of work is finally taking shape for the public to share.

“This exhibition is simply showing Raja Ravi Varma’s oleographs and related advertisements inspired therefrom from The Osian’s Archive. It does not include any original paintings or sketch-books,” Neville Tuli told Learning and Creativity in an email interview.

The Seminar hosted two talks focusing on Raja Ravi Varma by Rupika Chawla, author of Raja Ravi Varma: Painter of Colonial India highlighting the Influence of Raja Ravi Varma on the Indian fine and popular arts & modernism and Ashish Rajadhyaksha, co-author of the Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema speaking on Raja Ravi Varma & Cinema: Post the Phalke Connection.

“Indeed the exhibition has been essentially curated to support the Seminar & Debate on the Freedom for Creative Expression, while providing another glimpse of these iconic oleographs in a certain wider context. Beyond that, this simple exhibition is making no claims, but to provide a glimpse of over 80 original oleographs and advertisements, which is in itself a very rare experience,” Tuli said.

One of the highlights of the evening was the intense Panel Debate titled ‘Where do we draw the line?’ Eminent speakers from the realm of art, cinema and literature participated in the Panel Debate including Ranjit Hoskote, Amit Khanna, Ketan Mehta, Q, Kamal Swaroop and Neville Tuli. 

Special Invitees in the Audience included Lalita Lajmi (Artist/sister of Guru Dutt), Kalpana Lajmi (Filmmaker), Sophie Ahmed (Collector & Patron of the Indian Crafts), Namrita Bachchan (Artist, Poet and grand-daughter of Harivansh Rai Bachchan), Deepa Sahi (Producer of Maya Movies), Randeep Hooda (Lead Actor in Rang Rasiya), Jaya Patel (Collector of Raja Ravi Varma artworks, Patel had bought ‘The Begum’s Bath’ in 1997 for record price of Rs. 32 lakh), Vandana Shroff (Co-owner of Amarchand Mangaldas & Shroff) and Ketan Mehta (filmmaker and director of Rang Rasiya) among others.

Panel Discussion with Neville Tuli, Ranjit Hoskote, Q, Ketan Mehta, Kamal Swaroop and Amit Khanna

Panel Discussion (L to R) Q, Ranjit Hoskote, Ketan Mehta, Neville Tuli, Amit Khanna and Kamal Swaroop

Rang Rasiya Poster

Ketan Mehta-directed Rang Rasiya is based on the book Raja Ravi Varma by Marathi author Ranjit Desai. The film is based on a certain episode in the life of iconic artist Raja Ravi Varma and will be launched on 7th November across India.

“Further, that such an exhibition is happening in an environment with the presence of great scholars of art and members of the film fraternity only adds to the uniqueness of the event. Once in a decade you get such an opportunity, and amid all this an intense debate on the Freedom & Responsibilities of Creative Expression, especially given Ketan Mehta’s Rang Rasiya will be launching on 7th November and is concerned with the issues Ravi Varma faced as an artist,” Tuli emphasized.

Asked how relevant or significant is Raja Ravi Varma’s tradition/style of painting in today’s world of art, Neville Tuli said, “As mentioned earlier because Raja Ravi Varma oleographed his original paintings, he was able to reach millions of Indian households, especially as he was copied by the other printing presses and the advertising fraternity which were using the Indian Gods and Goddesses as the brand ambassadors for encouraging Indian consumerism, at least until the 1960s’/early 1970s’. The film stars only came into their own as brand ambassadors much later.”

“As a result,” Tuli explained, “the so-called Ravi Varma style through the lithographed and oleographed printing material and various other little artifacts which were inspired by these artworks (glazed ceramic sculptures made in Germany on Indian Gods & Goddesses) all created a space which Ravi Varma’s language dominated. His colour sense, the decorativeness and ornamentation, the fashion, the jewellry, the body language and gestures, all started filtering into the Indian sensibilities from his paintings.”

“It is important to remember that he in turn was influenced by much of European realism of the early 19th century. Given the British influence of mainstream India, it was natural that his Indianization of western styles was happily adopted by the public,” he added.

Yama and Markandeya oleograph

A Yama and Markandeya image which actually was used as a metaphor during the period of growing Nationalism and India’s struggle for Independence, where Shiva protects his favorite devotee from Death, as Gandhiji protects India’s Swaraj from the British. It is one of the very best oleographs, but the whereabouts of the original painting is not known.

Speaking about the Panel Debate, Tuli explained in a note, “Across the world as the balance between cultural, economic and religious forces radically changes, the arts, culture, academia and intelligentsia are being forced onto the defensive back foot. Daily intrusions are being made into the once hallowed freedoms for creative expression and academic thought. This is getting worse because of the financial dependency of the arts and culture on non-cultural sources and vulnerable patronage along with the lack of unity and public support within the arts and academia so as to fight off the bullying tactics of the growing “to be offended” public brigade and other vested interests, all desirous of exploiting the short term media attention gained.

The further inability of culture in creating a daily value system which is a living force for all citizens exacerbates this problem along with the growing intolerance amid certain radical minority religious sects, which in turn forces political institutions to react, so creating an atmosphere which slowly but surely is eating into brave, fearless and joyous creative freedoms, which were once conferred by the outside systems.

However, the worse effect is that which is slyly impinging and weakening the fearlessness of the inner voice, which is getting marginalized or increasingly mired in controversy for any idea or thought which creates or desires to create change. Going to the root of these thoughts, along with suggesting solutions, which influences a community or country or civilization is the need of the hour. This debate will hopefully explore all these issues in a systematic manner with a focus on the Indian experience.”

Raja Ravi Varma exhibition 3 oct 2014

Editor in Chief, Learning and Creativity; Consulting Editor, Silhouette Magazine. A former business journalist, Antara writes extensively on the changing trends of music, direction and filmmaking in cinema. Her articles aim to provide well-researched information on the legends of cinema for the movie and music enthusiast. She is also the Founder-Editor of Blue Pencil, a New Delhi-based publishing house. She edited and published Incomparable Sachin Dev Burman, the biography of SD Burman written by HQ Chowdhury. She has co-authored a chapter on Hemant Kumar's Bengali music in the acclaimed book The Unforgettable Music of Hemant Kumar, written by Manek Premchand. Her articles have also been published in and Antara is Editor-Creative Director of Wisitech InfoSolutions Pvt. Ltd.
All Posts of Antara Nanda Mondal

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