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KANISHKA RAJA passed away in his sleep on July 21. Image of the artist in his studio, taken by Jeff Chase, 2016. Image via Jeff Chase’s Instagram.

Artist Kanishka Raja passed away in his sleep on July 20 after a battle with lung cancer.

Born in 1970 in Kolkata, Raja had exhibited widely in the United States, India and Europe over the past two decades. In 2017, several of his oil paintings, which fused elements of landscape painting with textures and patterns of weaving (as well as the puncture marks
of actual bullet holes), were featured in the group exhibition “Lucid Dreams and Distant Visions: South Asian Art in the Diaspora,” curated by Michelle Yun, Boon Hui Tan, Lawrence-Minh Davis and Jaishri Abichandani, at New York City’s Asia Society Museum. The same year, he held a solo exhibition, “PostWest, v.2a: Ornament and Translation,” at the Barbara Walters Gallery, Sarah Lawrence College, in New York state, spotlighting works such as I and I (Translate); SW (2015–16), in which portions of the canvas were embroidered, woven or printed on linen. 

Raja’s paintings often come with multimedia counterparts that are woven, scanned, printed, embroidered. He described his own works as addressing “the visual politics of neutral and contested territories, and reflect the multivalent, multilayered hybridity of post colonial urban spaces.” In a video filmed during a studio visit in 2014, he explained his multilayered working process of downloading images from the internet, making an oil painting, having it enlarged and woven, and then scanning and printing portions on another canvas in the work I and I (Made Shoes For Everyone, But I’m Still Barefoot) (2012–14).

Raja received his MFA from the Meadows School of the Arts, Southern Methodist University, in Dallas, in 1995, and later attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, in Maine. He held solo exhibitions at the ICA Boston (2005), Jack Tilton Gallery and Envoy gallery in New York (both 2007), Galerie Mirchandani + Steinrücke, in Mumbai, in 2009, and Greenberg Van Doren Gallery in New York (2010). He was the winner of the 2004 ICA Artist Prize awarded by the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, and was a recipient of a 2011 Painters and Sculptors Grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation. His work is the collections of the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, The Meadows Art Museum, in Dallas, Texas, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, Wisconsin, and the Tang Museum, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York. He was a lecturer at the Yale School of Art. 

His younger brother, Prateek Raja, who runs Experimenter gallery in Kolkata with his partner Priyanka, wrote in a Facebook post that Kanishka had told him “do what you want to and do it without fear, and that’s how he would like to be remembered and celebrated.” In another tribute posted on social media, curator Murtaza Vali described Kanishka as “sharp and erudite with an impressive knowledge of art history. He was generous and cynical, witty and engaged, irreverent but always humble. And his work was exuberant and playful.”

Raja’s work is currently on view in a group exhibition of artists from Experimenter Gallery, hosted at Bridget Donahue Gallery in New York, through July 28.

HG Masters is ArtAsiaPacific’s editor-at-large.

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