Prasad Raghavan’s long background in advertising clearly reflects in the artworks that constitute his debut solo show—his digital prints, drawings, oil on canvas and installations show a clear influence of graphic design (which he studied at the College of Fine Arts, Thiruvananthapuram).
And then there is the content—the subject of what he has drawn, painted and installed. Raghavan says he is deeply disillusioned by the wave of consumerism sweeping across India, and many of his works can be viewed as explicit statements against the branded and packaged mode of consumption that is becoming integral to our lives. While the technique, style and production values of the works are inspired by advertising, their message is aimed squarely against everything advertising promotes—Raghavan seems to be atoning for his sins as an advertising professional. His installation of a container ship, And the Ship Sailed On, features containers with well-known brand slogans printed on their sides—“Life is Good”, “Like No Other” and “Dare to Dream”.
Chock-a-bloc: (clockwise from top, left) Detail from The Decalogue; a policeman from another work, also titled The Decalogue; a composite image of Decalogue and Raghavan.
He is articulating a well-worn sentiment—the advent of the industrial mode of production a couple of centuries ago first enabled mass consumption in the form we know it today. Unease, disdain and disillusionment with the perceived excesses of material consumption followed shortly thereafter, and has been an abiding concern since then. Raghavan captures the allure and peril of modern material culture well with his set of 10 striking, densely packed collages, each dedicated to one object of our desires—cars, buildings, semi-nude women in lingerie, among others. Titled The Decalogue, the collages, when viewed from afar, form a pattern that represents the Biblical Mount Sinai. They also remind you of the well-known collages made by the Pakistani artist Rashid Rana.
In other works, Raghavan’s disaffection with the world spills over to other subjects—such as man’s tendency to harm other men by preying on them through corruption or by waging war. This reflects in drawings and in a series featuring 10 life-size digital photo prints of men dressed as, among others, a doctor, lawyer, army man and policeman. Their faces are covered with black scarves in the manner of the criminally accused when they are hauled from prison to court and back. Raghavan cites Russian film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky to explain his approach to art: “The artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn’t look for harmony but would simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world.”
Most will find the concerns that animate Raghvan’s art spot on—what they lack is newness. His evident energy and deep sense of disillusionment, however, hold out promise.
Shot Tilt is on display at Gallery BMB, Queens Mansion, Ground Floor, GT Marg, Fort, Mumbai until 28 June. For details, log on to www.gallerybmb.com