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Someday is Today: Nikhil Raunak opens exhibition at Clark House
Nikhil Raunak, "Negro, Coloured, Afro-American and the most recent African-American", charcoal on paper, 2013.

By: Sumesh Sharma and Zasha Colah

BOMBAY.- Nikhil Raunak's visually intuitive process of working is deeply attentive to a large inheritance of visual ideas, text and language that leap beyond the confines of his location in place and time - and yet speak with disillusioning honesty about his own time. Precisely chosen, these inheritances and intuited similies are played with, adjusted into careful jokes, and subversions - in the work above, the vaudeville-comic's blackface mouth painted over the acid-bite of the etching, and the satirical substitution of a Chinese panda (whose Latin name translates as ‘black and white cat-foot’) for the black cat in Manet’s Olympia - make each work a small revolution, a small fire. Like the art works, the sentences - murmurs from a love song, a phrase from a letter by Van Gogh, data from a caste statistical chart - are played with, combined, ironised, till the language lives, till it gains a pulse.

In Bombay, Olympia is an old Irani restaurant on a parallel street from Clark House. It has been a constant. One wonders why it was named Olympia - perhaps after the ancient Greek sanctuary that once hosted the Olympic games. When one asks the present owners about the history they are uncertain of the origin of the name. The original Irani owners sold the restaurant to them decades ago and the present owners are Gujarati Chiliya Muslims. The Chiliya community is well known in the restaurant business, and are trusted for their quality of food. In Gujarat, they run many vegetarian eateries that have distinctly Hindu names, to prevent customers from discriminating against their religion in a polarised Gujarat. Despite them masking their identity they faced a major brunt of the communal riots that Gujarat faced in 2002. Olympia subsidises the lives of many taxi drivers, the blue collared and the back-pack tourists who dot the lanes around Colaba.

Nikhil Raunak has decided to reconstruct Edouard Manet's 'Olympia' as a single edition etching, which acts as a sanctuary to his thoughts on his practice as an artist. Edouard Manet had shocked Paris in 1865 with his reclining nude 'Olympia' for she was thought to be provocative and he was supposed to have painted a prostitute refusing flowers from a client while she gazes out of the canvas. This image had been earlier painted as Venus by Titian, Cezanne and Goya. But Manet's act was considered vulgar, as the painting was to liberate the woman as she seized power over her own destiny. But there was a certain story of the commencement of a subjugation of certain people, that African maid represented. Even the black cat in the original painting was castigated as the symbol of a prostitute. The maid was ignored she was only seen as someone serving her mistress. For in the following few years France was to join other European nations in a scramble for Africa, an imperialist policy that sought political control to subjugate an entire continent. Nikhil Raunak erases the maid in his etching and replaces her by a black man, and the cat is replaced by a panda, an Asian mammal, seen as a creature that is both black and white. Ironically it also represents China - a nation presently engaged in a scramble for Africa's resources, as India watches on jealously.

A graduate in portraiture and printmaking, Nikhil commented on his relationship with his father through etchings that depicted the portrait of Mao, or discussed his own relevance in Art History by sticking origami boats onto his etchings referencing Van Gogh, and including circles using coloured intaglio to critique Damien Hirst. His tryst with 'Olympia' makes many accusations on history, art and India.

Nikhil Raunak (b. 1988) completed his graduation and masters in painting and printmaking from Sir JJ School of Art, Bombay in 2013, combining various mediums, and continuously challenging the boundaries between printmaking, sculpture, installation, painting, video and performative photography.

He initially stepped out of the 2-dimensional expectations of a painting or print, by using elements of origami. Later, he turned his prints into free-standing sculptures with the help of wax molds. He has rendered portraiture theatrical by building symbolically on situations in art history and biography - a theme that runs through much of his college writing, which has been consistently outstanding.

Select group exhibitions in 2012-13 include, ‘Arranging chairs for Ai Weiwei’ 2012, ‘Shunya’ 2012, ‘I C U JEST’ at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2012, ‘L’exigence de la saudade’ at Kadist Art Foundation Paris 2013, and the ‘IInd Transnational Pavillion’ at the 55th Venice Biennale 2013. Nikhil Raunak has been associated with Clark House Initiative since its inception and together with other artists founded the Shunya Collective in 2011. This is his first solo exhibition.

Nikhil Raunak lives and works in Bombay.



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