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Ravi Agarwal

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1958, New Delhi
Lives and works in New Delhi

Ravi Agarwal is a photographer artist, writer, curator and environmental activist. He explores issues of urban space, ecology and capital in interrelated ways working with photographs, video, performance, on-site installations and public art.

Agarwal has shown in several international shows including Documenta XI (2002), Kassel , Germany, Horn Please (Berne 2007) Indian Highway (2009 ongoing) as well as several national shows and solo shows.


Enginner by training

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Ravi Agarwal is an artist of today's generation

He makes use of a variety of mediums to get his message across to his viewers. Although trained as an engineer, Agarwal’s artistic genius as well as genuine concern for the world around him incited his passion for photography.

He has the capability to take photography to another level of creativity by incorporating performance into his photographs. His exhibitions are almost always composed of videos and other installations along with photographs, making him the true new-age media artist who blends photojournalism with forms of digital technology, aesthetics with politics.

Ravi Agarwal, Immersion, emergence (24 works), 2006-2007, photographic prints 28 x 20.3 cm. (11 x 8 in.)

Ravi Agarwal finds a metaphor in Yamuna as he raises some existential concerns

Long before the polluted Yamuna became a commonplace subject discussed in public and private forums with intensity, there were a few who were working towards the cause quietly. Artist and environmentalist Ravi Agarwal was one of them.

Photographing the river since the ‘90s, one of the large-scale public projects curated by Ravi Agarwal is the Yamuna-Elbe Public Art Outreach Programme, 2011, aiming at pointing out the importance of the river Yamuna as the lifeblood of the burgeoning city of Delhi. His other important works aiming at similar concerns include Riverbank Installations I, II, III, 2007, Alien Waters, 2004-2006, and Have you seen the flowers on the river, 2007-2011, (an attempt to the river’s ecology in a rapidly changing city).

Ravi Agarwal, Have you seen the flowers on the river (set of 6), 2007, photographic, inkjet prints, 11 x 16 in.

For Ravi, art and social responsibility go hand-in-hand

He believes that activism and art aren’t separate.

Urbanisation and economic development marginalises a group of people who are left to survive within limited, ever-shrinking means. The works titled Of Labour and Value, 2011 ( the ever changing aura of desirability that determines the value of labour and does not mind discarding the previously favoured categories of labour), Down and Out: Labouring under Global Capitalism 1997-2000 (documenting the penury under which the daily wage earners in Surat live), A Street View, 1993-1995 (lives of the underlings), Mechanical Man and Metal Man, 2008 and Tar Machine Series, 2011 (dehumanization of labour in a technocratic capital world) and the ongoing project since 2009, Capital in Transition (ideas of Capital, space and human values) deal with these concerns.

Ravi Agarwal, Metal Man, 2008, photograph

Ravi Agarwal treats gender as a performance

Two of Ravi Agarwal’s iconic photographic performances, namely, Impossibility of Being Feminine, 2006 and Femininities, 2006 speak volumes about the artist’s deep concerns with issues of certain kinds of gender performances that the society expects and sanctions in an individual. The painful rupture between the assigned sex and gender identity and the even more painful non-acceptance by the society and the imposition of a set of codes on bodies set for streamlining gendered behaviour and disciplining bodies. The discomfiture of the male artist at having to shed the feminine part of him at every step of growing up to fit the social collective and his inability to reclaim that part of him, when looking back,  is poignantly depicted in Agarwal’s works.

Ravi Agarwal, Impossibility of Being Feminine, 2006, archival inkjet print

Agarwal incorporates a documentary style of art

Agarwal’s pictures show working people in the so-called informal sector of India's economy. They are snapshots of their work experiences - long working hours, difficult work conditions, and migration - in a range of industries such as textiles, diamond cutting, sugar manufacturing, brick making, and construction.

The pictures are rich in colour and expression, but the reality they depict is stark. The banality of these lives is downplayed by the artist’s powerfully imaginative camera which captures the vibrant hues in the underbelly of the city. His earlier work, in the documentary oeuvre, encompasses ‘nature’, ‘work,’ ‘labour,’ and the ‘street,’ while more recent work has been traversing questions of the self and ecological sustainability based on explorations of ‘personal ecologies.’

The best example of this would be the Yamuna-Elbe Public Art Outreach Programme, 2011, aiming at pointing out the importance of the river Yamuna as the lifeblood of the burgeoning city of Delhi.

Also his work ‘A Street View’ ( below) is documentary in nature as it propounds a specific theme which is related to improving the conditions of the masses. It is realistic and hard-hitting at the same time.


Ravi Agarwal, A Street View1993-95, photograph