Alka Raghuvanshi (1961-2021): A sentiment from the art world departs

Updated on May 27, 2021 02:28 PM IST

Artist, curator and art critic Alka Raghuvanshi passed away in Delhi, at 60. Her vast repertoire of work includes her experimentation with art, and how she created new platforms for it to get assimilated in everyday lives. Her contemporaries express grief and share memories of her effervescent persona.

Alka Raghuvanshi was India’s first trained art curator. She received her training at the Goldsmiths, University of London and the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford. (Photo: Facebook)
Alka Raghuvanshi was India’s first trained art curator. She received her training at the Goldsmiths, University of London and the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford. (Photo: Facebook)
ByHenna Rakheja, New Delhi

When a soul departs, it leaves behind memories uncountable, for many to rewind and replay. Mention the name Alka Raghuvanshi, and the subconscious ignites not just a recollection of the many facets of her personality – writer, curator, artist – which she carried with panache as she draped and embraced the six yards, but also an ‘ehsaas’ (a sentiment) that she has now left behind.

Ehsaas, the title of an illustrated book that she penned, is also the name of one of the many shows that Raghuvanshi curated. It saw her passion and quest for a multidisciplinary approach towards the arts, come alive on the stage. Alongside, this show marked a key milestone in the transitioning period in her life, where she moved from being an established writer, especially an art critic, and an artist to developing her oeuvre in textiles. For this, she turned 31 personalities from the world of art and culture, into mobile installations. One of them was artist Sanjay Bhattacharyya, who knew Raghuvanshi from much before. He reminisces how Raghuvanshi was always “very enterprising”, and adds, “Once Alka had interviewed me, and that was the very beginning of our friendship. As an artist, she was a spontaneous one. She used to play with colours, which everyone can’t. And even though she had health issues, and faced difficulty in moving around, she used to work a lot... Kahin bhi jate the to Bangali, Bangali bulate the mujhe.”

Artist Alka Raghuvanshi with her metaphoric guru MS Subbulakshmi. (Photo: Facebook)
Artist Alka Raghuvanshi with her metaphoric guru MS Subbulakshmi. (Photo: Facebook)

When the news of Raghuvanshi’s demise broke on social media, on Wednesday evening, many in the world of art and culture were left in shock and expressed grief at losing an art patron who never shied away from speaking her mind during her entire career that spanned over more than three decades. “I was shocked to read about her on social media. We had a long chat on her birthday in April, and just three days back she messaged from the hospital saying she wasn’t well and would call once she’s back home. And then this news came,” says artist Shridhar Iyer, who worked closely with Raghuvanshi on several projects. “I met her about 30 years ago, and she was like my elder sister and we would chat even at 2 in the night! A wonderful person, and a workaholic, she was one of the younger art curators when the masters were alive, and had received her training in Oxford. She was like a tower who kept all the artists close and together. We would call her Big Boss!”

“It was devastating when I opened Facebook and saw the news,” says Siddhartha Tagore, art collector and gallerist, recalling how he met Raghuvanshi for the first time: “It was in 1997 or 98 when I had gone to a newspaper office to get a review done for one of my exhibitions, and she was the one who helped me. She came to the gallery to see the show, and we stayed in touch. Her contribution has been immensely significant since she’s one of those art critics in the country who chose to be a critic in the time when criticism was already getting over. Once she organised a radio talk on Jamini Roy with both of us on the panel; and the best part of working with her was that she had no hang-up! Always accessible and very friendly, she made anyone feel like wanting to work with her. Many years ago, we were planning to do something together. Now, I think I will do something for her in my gallery, once the lockdown is lifted.”

“You saw her, and respected what she did,” says art curator Ina Puri, adding, “I wasn’t friends with her personally, but that didn’t matter because she was so present in our world. I have seen her from afar and her larger-than-life presence, and it’s difficult to accept that I will no longer bump into her at an art event. It’s very sad and unfortunate that we’ve lost someone who's been part of the Delhi art scene for so many years! She’s one of those people who made our worlds more exciting, colourful, and now when we go back to the galleries after lockdown, our world will be a less colourful place because her absence will make its presence felt. It will take for us a while to come to terms with it.”

As much as it might read trite, but when they say that life is uncertain so live each day as if it were your last, it is true. And Raghuvanshi truly lived every day like that.

Author tweets @HennaRakheja

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