Shake it up, mix it around

Fame, money and notoriety has made little difference to New York-based artist Raghava KK. A Bengaluru boy, who started his career as a cartoonist and shot to prominence in New York for his irreverent, yet dark canvases, recently sold an e-book as a work of art for several thousand dollars. Now, it's available on iTunes for less than two dollars. What shifted? Dhamini Ratnm finds out 

Earlier this year, a curious little idea escaped into cyber space, and as is wont with such wisp-like entities, went 'viral' soon enough. The idea -- as the best of them always are -- was simple. If you are reading a storybook, in this case, an e-book for tiny tots, and you disagree with the author's worldview, wouldn't it be simply spiffy if you could shake it up and get another in its stead?

New York-based artist Raghava KK at his family home in Bengaluru.
The artist began work on his e-book, Pop-It in February 2010. The idea
behind the work was to use technology and apply it to storytelling, in
such a way that by shaking the e-book reader, the panel in the story
shifts to offer another perspective. Pic/ Satish Badiger

New York-based artist Raghava KK thought that up and made it happen. The e-book, called Pop-It, was released on the iPad in July, at the TED conference in Edinburgh. Made up of funnily shaped, caricaturised men and women and a baby with an enormous head, it allows the reader to interact with the storyline in more ways than one. You can burst bubbles as the child takes a bath. You can tickle the daddy's toes as he sits on the pot. And if you have a problem with the fact that it's a straight couple that's grooming the child, shake the iPad and the duo is replaced by a same-sex couple -- complete with one parent in a tuxedo holding his nose, while his partner replaces a stinky diaper.

"The big idea," says the 31 year-old artist, who visited the city last fortnight to attend the opening of his third solo exhibition at Art Musings in Colaba, "is to offer multiple perspectives. Children's books are highly dogmatic.

The focus of the book is not alternate sexualities, but the fact that there are different perspectives." The perspective in this case being that there are different kinds of families, and children's books, which tend to present the hetero-normative version, elide over other kinds.

"Call this another kind of visual indoctrination, but one that propagates tolerance for difference," he says.
Pop-It began to sell even as Raghava introduced the book at the TED Global (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference held in Edinburgh. Within a day, over a thousand downloads were registered. The e-book is available in the iTunes store for $1.99 (Rs 100 approximately).

It didn't always cost this little, however. Back in January, Raghava, who explores the world through his caricature-like figures (a throwback to the times he worked as a cartoonist at The Asian Age and The Times of India in Bengaluru in the late '90s), sold this e-book as a work of art at the Singapore Art Fair for nearly $10,000 -- he sold the code and gave away an iPad.

"When I returned home, my wife fired the daylights out of me. She said, 'you created that e-book for parents and kids. Your objective should be to make as many people watch it.' That shook me up," recounts the artist.
Raghava took her advice. He returned the money to those who bought his work, and put up the e-book at the Apple App store. The incident also led him to reflect on a question that art is often posed with -- what is its purpose?

One purpose, replies the artist to what is usually dismissed as a rhetorical question, is that his paintings enable a journey of self-discovery. The other, he points out, is its entrepreneurial impact. "Why can't an artist be an entrepreneur?" wonders Raghava. "I don't want to be one of those people who think they know everything about the world, but have done jack about it."

Raghava will soon begin work with students from Toronto to study the power of storytelling through a web-based platform that uses the act of shaking to literally shake up perspectives, and by extension, Truth, Certitude and Singularity.

"There are multiple voices within me. I'm not schizophrenic. Everyone performs multiple roles, and to favour only one is to exist as a caricature," says Raghava. Behind him, a canvas titled 24:00 looms large, with a dreamscape marked by the faces of Nehru and Asterix, dotted with stars and smiling monsters beaming red rays out of their eyes.

The canvas has many elements, and the more you look at it, the more you can see. dhamini.ratnam@mid-day.comCatch Exquisite Cadaver at Gallery Art Musings, Colaba, till November 30.

Call: 22163339

Watch his TED Global talk introducing Pop-It on

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