The pain of love and separation

Ragini Upadhyay calls her artwork an ‘artistic diary’, reflect her life events and yearnings. Her current exhibition Love Revisited at Le Sherpa is a visual documentation of her feelings. It showcases more than a dozen of Upadhyay's prints, all centered around the theme of love, affection, separation, and the pain of love.

Many of the works have white backgrounds with human figures in blue and orange in various poses. The white backdrop gives a clean, pristine look to the paintings, so the viewer can focus on the images in the foreground. Most of the figures are in pairs: two people leaning towards each other, in conversation, in proximity, two hearts bound by threads.

Upadhyay says the images reflect the centrality of love in life. "Love is all around us, love is everywhere. By showing two hearts bound by threads, I am showing how love keeps human beings connected," she says.

Upadhyay (pictured left) uses many symbols to expand on this theme. There are horses, which symbolise speed. Her mobiles are horses with wings, depicting modern relationships that take you to loved ones in minutes through the cell signal. Like Upadhyay who married a Belgian national, these individuals connect through long distances, with Nepal's temples and monasteries on one side and modern cityscapes on other. Though Upadhyay calls her art her diaries, they could just as well describe the inner turmoil of millions of Nepali couples separated by migration today.

Upadhyay’s underlying message is that love brings not just joy but pain. Most times her lovers are far apart, arms outstretched in aching separation, longing towards each other. She also uses tortoises as symbols of patience, the fortitude needed to wait for love when it is far away. Even pairs of hearts are far apart, bound only by fragile red threads.

But even more than the pain of longing, Upadhyay depicts the pain of suffering that women go through. "Creation is an act of love, but after that, women suffer alone to give birth and complete the act of creation," she says. "Women are like the earth mother, which withstand floods, earthquakes and all kinds of disasters and still endure. I have tried to show what women are and what women can do."

Upadhyay's art has always intersected with activism, gender issues mixed up with themes like goddess and mythology. This time, she portrays women as grieving mothers as she herself still mourns her daughter’s death two years ago at age 20. Women's faces and profiles look out from many prints, stark and bright against the white background. Some are fettered by thorns, some held by oceans, while some others give birth. They are severe and mournful, but also strong and compassionate. Most of all, they deliver a strong emotional punch, leaving us with tender melancholy.

Through this exhibition, Upadhyay not just demonstrates how central love is to the human experience, but also how painful it can be, especially for women.

Kathmandu Art, Le Sherpa,

Until 13 April

Read also:

Etched in our memory, Sewa Bhattrai

Kathmandu through silk screen, Sewa Bhattrai

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