Conversation with Praveen Thampi

Prasad Raghavan breaks into an innocent laugh every now and then. Contradictions always makes him laugh, he says, and that's quite reassuring because that's how life reads. In fact, contradictions rule his life and career. One of India's best creative minds in advertising today runs an artistic crusade of sorts against human greed, which ironically is the raison d' etre of the ad industry. Prasad's latest series of works- charcoal drawings and video- titled Noah's Ark, offers a view from the point of no return. Prasad talks about his new series.

Praveen Thampi: You have always been obsessed with a very individual kind of spirituality, the hallmark of many artists, for eg., your own personal favourite, Andrei Tarkovsky. The Noah's Ark series has the motif of a boat placed elsewhere in all these five works. Do you hint at a certain redemption after the self –destruction that your works seem to warn of?

Prasad Raghavan: these works were mainly triggered by my own experience when I went to look for a flat in one of Delhi's innumerable under-construction housing complexes. I went with a friend of mine, and was told that of the complex's 700 flats, only two duplex type flats remained available. Till that day, I was blissfully unaware of all these haggling for a house. The concept of shelter here was up for bidding, and I could not help thinking of the Biblical saying " The birds of the sky, neither sow, nor reap nor store... But then it was a kind of moment of truth... Here I was becoming part of the same machine, because there's just no other way. Art, for most of us, is an illusion. How should it be, is question thrown to the winds. The creation process of this series was chaotic, and I had almost given up at a time. I had the concept clear in my mind, but I was having trouble with the execution. Am I able to express everything that I want to say? I wondered... In a more practical sense, I feared that my works were taking a very obvious shape. In form and execution, I felt that they were getting very graphic. Then I realised that it was the form that the content demanded. And that I should be happy with it, because it comes from within me...

Praveen Thampi: If you are wary that these works are so obvious in form, then, what, ideally, should they have been?

Prasad Raghavan: Well, it's for master artists to answer such a cardinal question. Ideally speaking, an artist doesn't need to show his works to anyone. But then, it's a desperate need of the mind. The question you are asking has commercial undertones. But if you ask me, I like best the works, which have dreamy nature to them. Art is the dream that sprouts in your mind after a season of intensive thought.

Praveen Thampi: You are India's most lauded creative directors in the advertising industry, a field ruled by pragmatic consumerism. But Noah's Ark is a crusade against these very values. How do you explain the irony?

Prasad Raghavan: Well, this very contradiction shapes our society of which both of us are part. Just like it shapes my life. There's this work in the series, a fish shaped like an aeroplane, dragging the boat away. The fish represents one of the earliest evolved forms of life. The idea came to me, when I was working on a campaign for an airliner... There was this news headline saying India is now the biggest buyer of planes, thanks to the booming domestic aviation sector... It set me thinking about the dangerous levels of greenhouse emissions, when all these aircrafts get airborne... it's going to tear apart the atmosphere. So this work is about my own contradictory concern... the first form of life and the man-made form that's going to finish all these...

Praveen Thampi: Returning the graphic nature of your works, this series looks like photographs from the future...

Prasad Raghavan: It's all an irony that none of us can escape. The thing is, who will blame whom, and for what? The sad part is all of us know the answer – from the prime minister to the common man. We need to introspect on how we reached this skewed stage of so-called development where mankind has become it's own biggest enemy. Human beings are the most calculative species in the nature. It's all a horrible contrast. Man is the only animal that thinks nature is something separate from him... I mean, look at the irony of saying something like 'Let's Preserve Nature'...

Praveen Thampi: The medium that you have used for this series, charcoal, in itself is a contradiction, considering that all your previous works were done in digital imaging, using the most advanced technologies... It's like a return to innocence.

Prasad Raghavan: In my last show, I actually ended up doing two works in charcoal because I was not getting the desired effects in digital. I wanted to portray a fish, but I was not getting that softness of flesh in digital. I tried many mediums, but eventually was satisfied with charcoal. Now, when I use charcoal, I feel like I am shedding out all the accumulated technologies from me. Yes, in a way, it's like back to basics. But mind you, charcoal is an extremely messy medium. You just can't afford to go wrong at any stage of your work. The title work took me 40 days to complete.

Praveen Thampi: Your title work shows this doomsday city were concrete seems to acquire a scary natural form. There's not a soul in the streets among the mountains of concrete. And every other work in this series can be interpreted as a blow-up of a portion of this central drawing... In way it reminds me of the American writer Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road, which narrates the state of life after an all-consuming tragedy.

Praveen Thampi: Your title work shows this doomsday city were concrete seems to acquire a scary natural form. There's not a soul in the streets among the mountains of concrete. And every other work in this series can be interpreted as a blow-up of a portion of this central drawing... In way it reminds me of the American writer Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road, which narrates the state of life after an all-consuming tragedy.

Prveen Thampi, Associate editor, Economic Times, New Delhi

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