Desire in August

Desire in August

Gallery: Solo Show in Vadhera Gallery, New Delhi.

Essay Title: We laugh at ourselves as we cannot cry

Author: Suneet Chopra

Year:  2002

The paintings and mixed media works by Ravikumar Kashi are very much the art of the age of consumerism: Seductive and seduced. Every subversive statement hides under the coverlet of glamour. It is tongue-in-cheek art that speaks the language its phrases and sentences decry.

This art is not new. It traces its lineage back to Andy Warhol, bows its head to the seductive images of the consumer culture from Shahrukh Khan in " Fun" , to colours of the national flag in "Indian" and the ubiquitous Pepsi bottle in "Book of Alphabets P for Pepsi", and then recoils upon it with a sense of rejection, as in "Get Ahead" where we see the image of a car gone ahead confronted with a traffic jam of similar cars, questioning the imperative. In the same way, the long rope of the rat race in " Hit" ends up with the back of one's head being targeted by the telescopic lens of a gun .

It reminds us we live in an age of sharp contradictions. We have the capacity to be free of every kind of want by advances in science and industry, but are consistently being enslaved by it in its most crass form of substandard mass produced consumer goods, from tacky underwear to cheap perfume.

In this artist's work we see ourselves as masters enslaved by their hunger. Nothing is left in our private domain any more, and the rat on the run in the rat race, for all his huffing and puffing, is as dead as the chicken on the skewer. It unnerves us.

What is fast, like the foot with running shoes on, as in "Breathless" , is defeated by the tortoise crawling under its shell not by its steady determination, as in the classical fable of the hare and the tortoise; but by the rules of the game that parade below the runner as forbidding road signs. Times have changed. Virtues like thrift, honesty, grit have become vices. And vices are the new virtues, as we can see in "Yesterday once Again" "book of Alphabets G for Gun," or "just Do It, in which even love becomes so possessive as to take on the character of an all consuming passion that envisages even murder. The hunger of the consumer society is that of the cannibal. This is the art of an age out of tune with humanity and with itself. Its language is the language of hyperbole and its images have become so trite with usage that they have to be propped up by neon lights, imperatives and bold colours. And behind it all, the timidity of the couple in "What Will People Think"? where the command of 'Love' and 'kiss' is met with the TV fig leaf of a formal mask that censors the lips of the kissing couple. You can see what is going on, but you are not meant to admit it to yourself. The artist reminds us of how powerless we have become in the face of multinationals and monopolies controlling our most fundamental urges and expressions and diverting them to their own ends. We are afraid to awaken in us our own sense of being. But he uses the language of our enslavement not to strip us of our false sense of well being, almost in the same way as when nineteenth century forbears of our national movement claimed they were challenging only "un British" rule in India. The cry for independence came a good fifty years later.

This art that is being produced at the height of the development of the consumer society no longer resounds with the clarion call of artists like Picasso, who made the helpless horse of the picador, with its vocal cords slashed, centerpiece of his 'Guernica, making the victim a hero, just as Fukazawa painted castrated oxen in the same way, extolling their helpless grit. Picasso was condemning the fascist attack on the Basque village of Guernica while Fukazawa condemned the fascist occupation of Manchuria by Germany. At times when it seemed almost impossible, they were telling us that "the meek shall inherit the world." And also, that we should side with them.

Today things are different. Both the meek and the strong are targeted by unrelenting market forces driven by the sound of the till. Even their dreams and emotions have a price that is exacted by behemoths out of the control of those who drive them. So what do we turn to? We turn to the writing on the wall, to graffiti, to footsteps and traces, the raw material of the hope that we can recover our last humanity by cutting through the mass of motivated chimera and grasp the truth of texture, colour, form and volume to use as the building blocks of an art of liberation that is found to emerge out of the work of an art of subversion. The success of Ravi Kumar Kashi's work is that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel and not get bogged down in either subterfuge or despair. When everything else fails matter charged with the human spirit succeeds.

Desire in August

Ravi Kashi, Works 2002

By Suneet Chopra