But then Raghava, a New York-based internationally-acclaimed contemporary artist, five-time TED speaker and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer (in 2013), has never believed in the one-size-fits-all philosophy.
“I am just not an artist. I am a husband, a father, a son, a teacher, a bit of a politician, a businessman and I also sell beauty. I do all these different things and it’s ridiculous to think I am only one thing,” he told a jam-packed auditorium at the first edition of The NSoJ Roundtable held at the National School of Journalism, Bengaluru. Listening to him with rapt attention were young people between the ages of 16 to 26. After all, Raghava had broken all the rules, gone off the beaten track and yet reached his destination.
Dropping out of school worked for him, he said, but quickly added (to ensuing laughter), that he did not advocate such a course of action for young people!
The NSoJ Roundtable is a platform that gives the student-journalists at NSoJ an opportunity to closely interact with some of the best minds, and is open to the student community as a whole.
From cartoons to founding a creative company
In his talk, Raghava touched upon his varied ‘avatars’ as an artist–from being a cartoonist to creative collaborations with musicians like Paul Simon and Erykah Badu, to founding Flipsicle, a company that aims to develop a visual search engine. He started cartooning as a young boy growing up in Bengaluru. “Cartoons are important, as they can make one laugh and think at the same time,” he explained. He quit formal education to become a cartoonist.
Through his work Raghava wants to shake up people’s perceptions. Like the children’s book he created on India’s Independence for Apple’s I-pad. Shake the I-pad and you get Pakistan’s perception, shake it again and it will show you Britain’s perception. “It didn’t launch because people are so sensitive about their narrative” he explained. But he launched another one which aims at shaking the concept of family. “Everyone has a bias. What can be transformational is creative expression that allows many different biased perspectives to coexist simultaneously. When you see the world through other people’s eyes, you have a richer understanding of who you are and why people do what they do,” he said.
A similar philosophy is behind his newest venture, the visual search engine. ”There are different ways of thinking – visual, mathematical and semantic. While semantic learning limits the imagination, visual learning lets you break free. Visuals, unlike words, mean different things to different people. Visuals are both windows and a mirror. Pictures are not just about 5Ws and a H (referring to What, Where, When, Who, Why and How, the basics of journalism), he said.
He used technology extensively in his own art work in order to break barriers–social, emotional and psychological. “News, art and literature is a mirror of who you are. If you don’t like a work of art, it’s because of your limitations or because the artwork punctures your comfort level,” he said. For instance, in one of his canvases, when someone touches the work, the image changes via the magic of a digital projection system. “It’s reinvented by each person who interacts with it,” he explained. Another idea of his has to do with an empty wall. “When you stand before it, a randomly chosen character projects onto the blank space and mirrors your movements. It’s fascinating to see how people step outside their own inhibitions and start moving the way they think that character would move,” he said.
Be empathetic, not self-righteous
Today, anyone with a good idea can change the world, he pointed out. “Everyone is now a publisher, a broadcaster. Every human being is now also a journalist bringing his or her own perception to the table.” But he emphasized that NSoJ students, on the other hand, had the added responsibility of bringing varied perspectives into media. He urged them not to become self-righteous and authoritative, but to be empathetic in their work.
India, he said, is a special country for it has 60 years’ experience in existing as an “impossible” democracy. He ended his talk by hoping that India would continue to live in plurality, to be a place where multiple truths exist.
The talk was followed by an extensive question and answer session between the speaker and students of Delhi Public School, Bishop Cotton’s girl School, Vidya Niketan and Vidya Shilp Academy and, of course, the budding journalists of NSoJ. – Khushboo Aneja