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When Raja Ravi Varma was ad material

Explore the great Indian artist’s 80 oleographs and advertisements that explore his influence on Indian popular imagination till date

Raja Ravi Varma is one of the few Indian artists who is ubiquitous in his presence across Indian households. From calendar art to soap advertisements, tracing the art works of the 19th century artist, Osianama and Tao Art Gallery are hosting an exhibition along with seminars, lectures and debate. Osian’s founder chairman Neville Tuli will be opening the event while conservator Rupika Chawla and film scholar Ashish Rajadhyaksha will deliver lectures. Also, an array of speakers such as Ranjit Hoskote, Amit Khanna, Ketan Mehta, Q, and Kamal Swaroop including Tuli will participate in a debate titled, Where do we draw the line?

Original Raja Ravi Varma image, which was then later used for advertisements
Original Raja Ravi Varma image, which was then later used for advertisements

Tuli explains, “Whether we like it or not, whether it is perceived to be positive or negative, the western academic style adopted by Raja Ravi Varma while choosing Indian themes from our epics and myths has had a profound influence on the way the Indian public perceives visual imagery.” He adds that the inherent conservatism of Ravi Varma’s style, though bold to some extent for its times, has to a large extent coloured the way we perceive not just our gods and goddesses, but also other human beings (who to some extent are seen relative to gods and goddesses).

embellished with beads and cloth and kept at home as part of their little temples.

The artist however, entered the popular imagination, once he oleographed his original works that eventually entered Indian households in various objects of consumption ranging from a print advertisement to calendar art. Tuli shares that Ravi Varma’s take on “gods and goddesses became the brand ambassadors for encouraging Indian consumerism, at least until the 1960s to early 1970s.” Tuli also alludes to Ravi Varma’s colour sense, decorativeness and ornamentation, fashion, jewellery, body language and gestures, which have all been internalised by the masses making one believe that this is how the divine pantheon looks.

Ram’s Anger oleograph is from the very first press that was established by Raja Ravi Varma. pics courtesy/osianama
Ram’s Anger oleograph is from the very first press that was established by Raja Ravi Varma. Pics Courtesy/Osianama

These works have been curated from the Osian’s Archive, which contains the artist’s 80 original oleographs and advertisements. “The exhibition has been curated to support the Seminar and Debate on the Freedom for Creative Expression, while providing another glimpse of these iconic oleographs in a wider context. Such an exhibition is being held in an environment with the presence of scholars of art and members of the film fraternity to add to the uniqueness of the event. Once in a decade does such an opportunity arise, especially given Ketan Mehta’s Rang Rasiya will be launching on November 7, and is concerned with the issues Ravi Varma faced as an artist,” he concludes.

Lecture/debate on: Today, 11 am onwards
Exhibition till: October 5
At: Tao Art Gallery, 165, The View, Dr Annie Besant Road, Worli.
Call: 24918585
Log on to: facebook.com/osianama
Entry: Free

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