ExplorersBio

Raghava KK

Artist

Emerging Explorer

Picture of Raghava KK

NIMISH JAIN

Raghava KK’s globally acclaimed art pushes the boundaries of creativity and technology, often blending the two in interactive, participatory experiences that challenge and change perceptions. His work spans genres as disparate as painting, sculpture, film and performance. His work spans genres as disparate as painting, sculpture, film and performance.”

You walk into an art gallery, approach a painting, touch the canvas, and watch it transform before your eyes. No alarms sound. No guards descend. In fact, you’ve done exactly what the painting’s creator wanted you to do.

For Raghava KK, interactive art isn’t a stunt, but a powerful way to broaden perspectives and encourage empathy. “I like to question the way information itself is delivered,” he explains. “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.”

KK’s distinctive style first flourished in his work as a newspaper cartoonist. His penchant for using comic pathos to challenge accepted societal norms has since swept through myriad art forms, including painting, sculpture, installation, film, and performance.

Today, technology plays a pivotal role in his art, allowing multiple perspectives to be revealed and manipulated by the viewer, essentially becoming a new creation each time it is seen. His iPad picture book for children created a new genre of “shaken stories.” Each time parents and kids shake the screen, a new definition of “family” appears. Mom, dad, and child; two dads and kids; two moms and kids; single parents. “I grew up in the bubble of a very traditional Indian family and only saw one point of view,” he says. “I created this book because I wanted to expose my own children to many perspectives at a very early age.”

Now he’s helping develop a new technology, embedded in picture frames, that lets his paintings become touch screens. He creates the art with real paint, but when someone touches the canvas, the image changes via the magic of a digital projection system. “It’s reinvented by each person who interacts with it,” KK says. Another idea begins with an empty wall. As 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’s using brain-wave technology to push the participatory experience even further. Wearing an EEG headset, the viewer’s mood and perspective become part of the art. “I start with an image of a grumpy old woman; I call her Mona Lisa 2.0,” he explains. “As you look at her, the EEG headset measures 13 frequencies from your brain waves to indicate if you’re stressed, calm, sad, angry, relaxed, concentrating hard, or anything in between.” A computer algorithm processes those brain-wave measurements and makes the woman’s face respond to your mental activity. As your emotions change, the art changes in real time—grinning, smiling broadly, frowning, scowling, or gazing peacefully.

Technology is also key to an educational tool he’s developing to teach children shapes—not just as flat geometric graphics, but as concepts. “We crowdsource photographs of structural objects in the real world that physically demonstrate different shapes—using a car tire to teach circles or the pyramids to teach triangles. It’s a much more meaningful way to learn. This idea of many crowdsourced images all existing simultaneously could be a great way to take on some of the world’s bigger issues and show multiple perspectives on different topics.”

Ultimately, KK sees participatory art as a tool for encouraging self-realization, and he hopes the interactive experiences he creates will make people more open to having their opinions challenged. “I explore sensitive topics such as politics, identity, gender, sexuality, and conformity, but there’s often an element of humor to my work. I like to disrupt your thinking, but make you feel like I’m hugging you while I’m disrupting you. That’s why I frequently use the disarming aesthetic of cartoons to say something powerful. I want to make people think differently, without losing them along the way.

“I think the most important ingredient of happiness is to feel you are useful and adding value to the world,” he explains. “When I judge what my life has meant, it’s not how much money I’ve made or how many paintings I’ve sold. It’s whether I’ve used my art as a tool to give back and make a difference, large or small.”

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In Their Words

My art looks at issues from multiple perspectives to help open minds, inspire tolerance, and engender empathy. You can appreciate other viewpoints even if you don’t accept them.

—Raghava KK

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