New Delhi, India
Artist of the Month May 2022
Raki Nikahetiya is a New Delhi-based interdisciplinary artist. His work is a mix of conceptual and process-oriented art that seeks to interrogate identity and belonging in the 21st century.
Raki’s journey to becoming an artist has been rich and circuitous: “I studied economics and tourism, and I worked in trade development, photojournalism and marine conservation. These previous experiences gave me access to different jobs, cultures, and ways of thinking.”
After having completed a foundation course at the Slade School of Art, London, in 2019, Raki took the leap and became a full-time artist. Since then, he has made work that merges photography, digital art, traditional artisanal practices and science to explore personal and collective identity. Raki’s series of hand-made carpets titled V.I.R.A.L. that were made in collaboration with a weaving community based in Uttar Pradesh, India. These large, highly sculptural, hand-tufted carpets recycle imagery from popular internet memes in bold reds and electric blues.
In the series A SIMPLER LIFE, from which the artwork we are presenting here is drawn, Raki explores his childhood memories and people who have left a deep imprint in him. Find out more about this series here and this article.
Raki first became obsessed with memes during the American Presidential Election in 2016. He noticed how the same meme images were used by both left- and right-wing campaigners to spread humour and political opinions. “I find memes fascinating because they have seemingly no value and are full of nonsense,” Raki explains, “but at the same time they also communicate deep emotions and convictions online and in a split second.” He went on to collect memes and paint over two hundred memes by hand in acrylic and digitally. The final step in his process was transforming meme templates into tapestry to open up debates about communication, value and meaning: “How are we supposed to value new hybrids? What makes something meaningful or truthful?”
In all of his projects, Raki constantly finds ways of connecting the personal with the global. Each work begins as a personal, introspective investigation and ends in collaborative endeavour. “For me, the important thing is to find the best tool to get to grips with an idea or to solve a problem: once I’ve developed a mode of enquiry by myself, I love reaching out to others – craftsmen, scientists – to exchange ideas and develop my projects.” Having started off as a painter and avid doodler, Raki became a professional photographer and has recently branched out to coding, hand-embroidery, electron microscope photography, video, digital painting, and microorganism cultivation.
Ultimately, Raki is driven by a delight in breaking boundaries between individuals and between disciplines. Currently, he is working with a cave painting expert based in northern Spain on a microbiome project. By learning about prehistoric drawing, Raki is developing a self-portrait of the different bacteria inhabiting his body by cultivating microbes in petri-dishes. He is currently also working on a photo book on the last indigenous people of Sri Lanka, The Wanniyala-Aetto community, developed in collaboration with the tribal communities, the University of Colombo and Public Works. Raki had a solo show “ANOTHER LIFE” with the Austrian Cultural Forum in New Delhi and he showed “IN CARNATIONS” and “POSSIBILITIES” at Rotterdam Photo 2022 during Rotterdam Art Week in May.
A limited edition hand-embroidery of a Sri Lankan King Coconut - a childhood memory of the artist growing up in Sri Lanka, before emigrating to Europe in the late 80s. The object is from the series ‘A SIMPLER LIFE’.