Nepali Times
Embodying Myth


Known for her alluring and satirical prints, Ragini Upadhyay-Grela now displays her creative prowess with her work in oil. A single figure dominates a painterly landscape. Heavy, stable, secure and complete unto themselves, the animals she depicts contain a range of displaced symbols and forms. Against a wall-like background, or one of earth and sky, stained by numerous handprints that mark the central figures as well, Ragini asks the witness to merge with the larger form even as they identify the particular figures that are bound within. Puzzled or pleased by the integrative process at work here, one cannot but be assured by the holding power of her animals. They stand (like a stupa or a Ganesh) as an implacable presence, not a cow or a lion or a tortoise, but cow-mother, lion-mother, tortoise-mother that will not abandon her progeny or her bodily parts, though they be torn from her and scattered over the earth. These forms are peaceful, yet indomitable. There is a violence here overcome, a chaos that will not prevail, for there is no moving her figures from their rightful place at the centre of creation. Only the handprints remain as signs of the forces she submits to, the violence willed against her.

These figures (the artist suggests) reinterpret mythic embodiments of the female psyche. Ragini says regarding her paintings: "The Tortoise suggests infinite patience, which is a female quality. The Cow called Kamdhenu in mythology a symbol of great and powerful Desire, which is locked in the case of most women." The effect on the witness is two-fold; perception and intellect are triggered by the seemingly decorative placement of individual forms; yet an emotive and intuitive rapport is effected by the major figure itself. These works, though pleasing to the mind, are best encountered with the body, by a mirroring that will not be parsed with the logic of words. While her prints speak directly of corruption and hypocrisy or playfully of desire, Ragini's oils transcend her references with a more complete embodiment.

In her oil on canvas "The Woman", a cow with a peacock's tail and wearing a human mask gazes at us. Embedded within, a faceless woman dances, her outstretched leg, the cow's; a peacock on her shoulder and outstretched arm. For Ragini, "peacock and birds represent dream and freedom". There are other displaced symbols-a key around the cow's neck, a bird for a horn, a lotus for sexual organ, and the most prominent of handprints, like those that smear the space behind her, is stamped on the cow's hind leg. The language of myth and dream guided the artist, and we too can read the painting in this way. To open one's self to myth is to let go of the literal mind. To become one with the cow mother, the peacock dreamer, the woman dancing, the lotus bringing forth, to take the key from the cow's neck, and, remove our handprints from her thigh is a beginning of a journey inward. Each one of Ragini's oils affords the onlooker the possibility of entering the psyche's hidden realms, though a few (like her prints) look outward, lambasting the social and political failings of contemporary Nepal.
There is a familial and haunting presence revealed by Ragini's menagerie of cow, lion, tortoise et al. These animals, depicted with a primitive realism, display the magnetic and morphlike qualities of unaccountable creative force. These emblems of forbearance, these mythic figures, are signs for what outlasts and precedes us. This exhibit is not to be missed. Ragini's figures, so familiar and unfamiliar, from another world, are revelatory glimpses of the world we inhabit or (like her larger than life Pig with topi and shoe) explicit condemnation of those who can no longer dissemble that world.

Ragini's Odyssey 2001
Siddhartha Art Gallery
Baber Mahal Revisited
Till 28 February

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)