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ART & SOUL – RAGINI UPADHAYAY

Text by: Rojina Adhikari

“Life is a journey that puts you through despair and contentment in equal measure. It’s your attitude that decides how long both will exist,” shares famed Nepali artist, Ragini Upadhayay and the first woman chancellor of Nepal Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA).

She also says that success isn’t about what you accomplish in your life, rather it’s about what you inspire others to do.

Ragini recently founded the Shivata Love Foundation in memory of her daughter.

The Shivata Love Foundation is a non-profit organisation founded in Belgium and Nepal. It started from the idea of the parents of Shivata Upadhayay Grela, a 20 year old who was caught by the meningitis B bacteria and in less than 24 hours sadly left this world. The Foundation in Belgium raises awareness on meningitis B vaccine, while in Nepal it provides scholarship for the full education of underprivileged girls from rural Nepal.

Coming through great personal loss, Ragini is a strong woman who understands pain.

Over the year she has stood at the front of the evolving art scene in Nepal recognised for creativity and passion for arts. Excerpts of a conversation with WOW:

What made you consider a career in the arts?

I was very interested in painting since childhood. I could make a copy of anything I once saw and nobody taught me that. It is God’s gift. My father noticed it. I was also not too good at academics. I went to Allahabad for my schooling. There, my art teacher recognised my talent. My others teachers were not very happy because I used to get low scores in their subjects, but in art I always scored maximum numbers. Despite the complaints and hardship, there came a point when I won an art competition held among 20 schools, and that is when my other teachers started appreciating my interest as well.

I recall a teacher Mrs. Kapoor insisting that I join fine arts after schooing and that became my guiding point. I studied fine arts from Lucknow. Then I went to Delhi to study print making. In 1986, I returned and got the chance to exhibit my works and that marked the beginning of my career as an artist. I went to England and Germany to do different courses in printmaking. So far I have done 60 national solo exhibitions.

Your inspiration…

Life is not always like a red rose, there are many thorns in it as well. I don’t know about others, but my paintings reflects my life, society and our nation. Whatever attracts me, I paint it. My work Samaya Chakra and Love in the Air are examples.

I also want to add that when I was in my old school the trend of taking an autograph was at its peak. When I asked one of my favourite teachers for her autograph, she wrote that “Art shouldn’t be only for art’s sake, rather it should be for life’s.” That touched me very deeply. Inspired by her words different series of paintings are more focused on reality and social issues.

How do you define yourself as a person apart from the high recognition as an artist?

I would say I am very stubborn I am also very kind hearted. I want to share an incident from my school days. I had a classmate who used to wear torn dresses and sit alone during breaks staring at others. After some time I got to know that she couldn’t afford lunch. After that we always shared lunch. My hands are always open and I believe in sharing.
At the time of the devastating earthquake my gallery in Belgium bought various art works from local artists to help Nepal. Among 70 artists I was the only Nepali to contribute the entire amount to the 375 victims of Sindhupalchowk district.

What are you currently busy with?

Being not only the first but the first woman chancellor of Nepal Academy of Fine Arts, I am now fully involved in its administration. I have recently released a collection of songs and am in the process of writing a book and definitely working on some paintings as well. Along with this I have a Foundation in my daughter’s name called Shivata Love Foundation which offers scholarships for deprived and orphaned girls from government schools. Currently we have three scholarships named Aafno Sapana and I am thinking to expand the outreach to more young girls. I have always wanted to contribute to society and under privileged people through art and this is what I am doing.

Marriage…

I am married to a Belgian national. It is a love marriage. After returning from Germany, I had a gallery at the Blue Star Hotel. One day a guy came with a painting to be framed. I helped him. After that we often met and whenever he passed by my gallery he would drop in. We fell in love and decided to get married. At first it was difficult to get our families to accept our relationship. But as I shared earlier I am stubborn. I told my father that if he wouldn’t allow us to marry I would go to the court for registered marriage.

What makes you happy?

The definition of happiness differs in each person’s personal experiences. There are many ways to feel happiness. We all are flying with different feathers of desires and in general the state of fulfilment of your desires defines happiness.

There are many moments that describe my happiness but one which I will always remember is selling my painting for the first time at Rs 300. That moment was priceless. It also made me realise that my paintings were worth buying. Even after selling my paintings for so much more. That feeling can’t be replaced.

What does being a woman mean to you?

Women in my eyes are creators. There are no other human beings that are as patient, loving and brave. They lighten others lives through their being. Without them, the world would not exist. I am very proud to be a woman.

What is the role of art in changing society or the individual?

It can bring big revolutions, create history. Art reflects our inner emotions and social issues in different forms. My works like ‘Goddess and Women’, ‘Mythology and Reality’, “’Sungur Ko Mukhma Shyau’, ‘Bandar ko Hat ma Nariwol’ raise issues of social injustice towards women, the state of corruption, and satire on irregularities and malpractices. Through art we can raise awareness. It creates instant expressions and directly impacts the mindset… and that is what art is all about.

What is the scenario of Nepali art?

In comparison to previous times when there were 2-3 studios, now we have so many as well as a market for art. Traditional paintings have a huge market internationally.
My suggestion to new artists is to never give up. Obviously, there are lots of obstacles but there are also huge possibilities of success. The expansion of technology is helping new artists market their work in different ways. So if one has the endurance along with the talent and capacity for hard work, art can definitely transform a person’s life.