Gallery visitors will witness the complexity of healing and hope amid broken landscapes at the Hearth’s next exhibition, “Mending Cracks: Beyond.”
Twenty years ago, an earthquake trapped Raghavendra Rao (Raghu) under a pile of rubble.
The multimedia artist was teaching at the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore, in the south part of India (where he was born, raised and trained at the prestigious Ken School of Art). Raghu had brought about 18 art students to the Kutch region in northwestern India, when the 7.7 magnitude earthquake hit. The teacher and students were near the epicentre. No one died but after getting trapped under rubble, Raghu was left with a slightly paralyzed left arm and PTSD. “A lot of my friends went back there for rehabilitation work…I said, I can't face the place. I just tried to shut it out.”
Raghu tried behavioural therapy, medication and all kinds of things but it wasn’t until after he moved to Canada in 2011 that he started processing the trauma through his artwork.
“Because I was physically away from the place, I guess I could deal with it.”
In 2012, Raghu started with watercolours – broken sculptures from the site, temple ruins, but didn’t realize he was processing the trauma until his wife pointed it out.
And then he delved more purposefully into it – he became an honourary research associate at UBC’s Centre for India and South Asia Research and kept painting broken things in broken landscapes – “I look at it as, like a sense of hope, you're still there.”
When he first moved to Vancouver, heading up to the eighth floor in a tall building wasn’t possible for Raghu – the PTSD was overwhelming.
But, the project has allowed the artist to confront his experiences. “Every day I'm making these watercolours, drawings and stuff. So this does help me to confront it more, accept it.”
Raghu, his wife and their son moved to Bowen’s Miller Road in March 2020, just before COVID-19 hit (though they’d been visiting here for a decade). The (relatively) new islander’s Hearth exhibit next month is something of a retrospective of this work. The Hearth show will feature paintings and an installation Raghu has made over the years since 2012, looking at “Mending Cracks: Beyond”: “Beyond my own experience, looking at other experiences,” explained Raghu.
The show “explores disability, trauma and the complex process of recovery. How do we respond to pain, personal and political, individual and social?” Explains the Hearth’s blurb. “In these works, we see struggle, acceptance, resilience, protest, and action, woven together in a series of portraits in watercolour, acrylic, and cloth on tarp, paper, and canvas, and arrayed on hanging Xray sheets.”
This Hearth show is a springboard for Raghu’s new project. Just recently, the artist received a Canada Council for the Arts research grant for “Dissenting views, viewing dissents,” looking at dissent around the world. “That is also connected to trauma and how you will get trauma that can lead to dissent. And how that becomes a very complex process.”
“Mending Cracks: Beyond” is at the Hearth Gallery Sept. 29 to Oct. 18.