Published: Verve Magazine, Nerve, February 2009
Kanishka Raja speaks volumes – through his precise canvases and his methodical working – despite his pretence of being creative through “a lot of productive time-wasting, in and out of the studio.” Sitanshi Talati-Parikh discovers the pithy sense of humour that lurks behind the canvas
Kanishka Raja vociferously sticks by the title of his last exhibition – where he predicts that ‘In The Future, No One Will Have A Past’. Raja’s world appears to be globally interconnected, while there is a pervasive sense of displacement. This is particularly apparent in his upcoming exhibition I Have Seen The Enemy And It Is Eye, which comprises a mix installations, larger pieces and smaller ones that resemble stills from a filmstrip. There is a feeling of motion and grandness that is larger than life – in the specific brushstrokes and choice of colours that encompass the airports, ships and television monitors.
Raja’s work draws from Indian tradition and miniature forms. Says the artist, “The vernacular imagery I grew up around in Kolkata: the posters and calendars, the charts in school, the cinema hoardings, the shop signage, the Amar Chitra Kathas, the Tintins, are indelible parts of my visual data bank. My parents, whose work in textile design over the last 40 years is a true labour of love, have probably been my earliest, most lasting and most inadvertent influence.”
The artist, who blithely claims that Salman Rushdie gave him the permission to be an artist, studied fine art at Hampshire College, Amherst, MA and received his MFA from Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, also attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegan, Maine. “I live in New York because I love cities and New York is the most diverse, democratic, secular and permissive city I know – Mumbai is not too shabby either.”
As he gears up for his first solo show in India, Raja, who “operates in the marketplace of ideas” plans to spend long periods of time puttering around his studio reading, thinking, doodling, with a fair bit of travel thrown in for good measure, after the show. You ask him why he chose to be an artist, and he has a glib reply ready, “The minute I realised that girls were really into artists!”