When Radhika Gupta, an Oxford-educated lawyer, decided to hold her second solo art exhibition she chose the paintings of Radha, the consort of Lord Krishna. Drawn to the artworks of Radha and Krishna during her stay in New York, Radhika developed a “sense of nostalgia and a greater appreciation” for her Indian roots.
The exhibition is divided into three distinct themes – Indian Inspired, Abstract and Contemporary – and will be held at New Delhi, New York and Norway’s Oslo and Bergen cities. The proceeds from the exhibition will go to war widows.
In an email interview to thestatesman.com, Radhika reveals why she calls Radha a ‘symbol of change’, what she thinks of female empowerment, how she transitioned from a lawyer to an artist, and her thoughts on freedom of expression.
You have called Lord Krishna’s consort Radha a ‘symbol of change’. Why?
I think David Kinsley, a Professor of Religion at McMaster University, Canada, describes the Radha love-story best when he said: ‘The Radha-Krishna love story is a metaphor for divine-human relationship, where Radha is the human devotee or soul who is frustrated with the past, obligations to social expectations and the ideas she inherited, who then longs for real meaning, the true love, the divine (Krishna)’. For me, Radha could very well be a woman of today – fearless in the pursuit of what sets her heart on fire. In my work, I depict her as being an unconventional and multifaceted symbol of devotion, love, and change.
You have also mentioned that Pahari and Pichhwai schools of painting drew you to Radha and Krishna. What is so unique about these schools?
I find these styles to be a kaleidoscope of history, scriptures and the lives of people through the ages. Pichwai is a style of painting which originated over 400 years ago in the town of Nathdwara near Udaipur in Rajasthan, India. Pahari is an umbrella term used for a genre of Indian art in miniature forms, originating in the Himalayan hill kingdom of North India during 17th-19th centuries, usually centred on the love stories of Radha-Krishna and other mythological literature.
At a distance these styles are beautiful, but on closer examination they are intricate and visually stunning, unravelling stories captured with infinitesimal photographic detail. Defined by delicate brushwork, a mélange of colours, and graceful forms, these paintings are so delicate that even today, with so much modernization, squirrel hair is used to create the brushes used in this art form. Creating a Pichwai or a Pahari is an intense labour of love which can take several months to finish. They are illustrated on a range of materials like palm leaves, paper, wood, marble, ivory panels, and cloth.
Organic and natural minerals like stone dust, real gold, and silver dust are used to create the colours. Even the paper used is special, being polished with stone to render a smooth nonporous surface.
Raja Ravi Varma immortalised the Indian deities as we see them today. His work has been described as essentially Indian but with a western touch. Have you had an opportunity to study his works?
Raja Ravi Varma made art accessible to all – that’s the beauty of his work. He is one of the few painters who managed to accomplish a beautiful union of Indian tradition with the techniques of European academic art. While I have not formally studied his work I have been captivated by his paintings my whole life. Varma’s paintings, which often highlighted the beauty of South Indian women such as Lady with a fruit, Nair woman, and Shakuntala are a few of my favourites. Also, his portrayal of Hindu gods and goddesses is greatly enchanting.
Art is a medium of expression. But freedom to express is under a cloud these days. What are your thoughts as an artist?
I believe in the freedom to express oneself and I think art is a fantastic canvas for that. However, anyone with a voice and a platform to be heard has a duty and a responsibility to do so with both integrity and mindfulness. Express with the aim of wanting to educate. Share ones views and allow others to listen and learn, but don’t be forceful.
Should freedom of expression mean freedom to offend?
I will never shy away from who I am and what I stand for – absolutely not. I am a very proud, strong woman. However, one can only look to broaden the mindset of others through education and experience; it should never be done forcefully. While I have the opportunity to reach others through my art, I will own that responsibility and do my utmost to do so in a conscious manner that will inspire rather than disparage.
What is it like for an Oxford-educated practitioner of law to turn to art?
I studied and practiced law for many years but I have always been very creative and aesthetically inclined. I started painting when I was about six years old, perhaps earlier and just continued with it.
Although from the outset it may seem as though I have taken the road less travelled by transitioning from a career as a lawyer to becoming a full-time artist, I just see it as a new chapter in my life. I believe it’s crucial to always look within and listen to what your heart and mind are telling you to do. I want to paint, I want to tell my story through each stroke of the brush, and that is what I am doing.
The legal profession and the world of art are technically opposites. Law requires a completely pragmatic approach whereas art is purely fantastical. How do you balance these two universes?
I think it is a myth that we are born with either an artistic or scientific mindset. In life, it is our duty to follow our unique gift with all we have to offer. We all have infinite potential – it’s about going after it. I choose to ignore the status quo and the more traditional way of doing things. My mind is constantly evolving and that is what fuels my passion to create. Travelling and being exposed to different cultures has allowed me to experience new ideas which have influenced my outlook on the world.
How many of your paintings are you exhibiting?
Choosing the pieces was difficult. I have selected 31 paintings for this exhibition.
Which of the three different themes, under which your paintings are being exhibited, is your favourite and why?
Tough question. Moving to New York permanently last year induced a sense of nostalgia and a greater appreciation for my Indian roots. It’s because of that I feel most connected to my India Inspired collection.
You said that the proceeds from your exhibition will go to war widows. Any specific reason behind your decision?
I am a feminist. My work is inspired by the spirit of female empowerment. I feel my internal dialogue that beats within is always telling me that I have to be fearless. I will not be silenced. I will be heard and I will be seen on whatever medium I decide to express myself. This exhibition allows me to help those who are oftentimes and sadly not heard and not seen.