Ravi Zupa: The Written Word as Weapon of Mass Destruction
A meditation on violence, political power, and the weight of malicious words, Dylan Thomas’ poem “The Hand That Signed the Paper” plays a central role in Ravi Zupa’s latest solo show at Los Angeles gallery Subliminal Projects.
“We usually think of the power of words as a positive thing, how it beats the power of violence,” says Ravi, who lifted the exhibition’s title, These Five Kings, from a line in Thomas’ 1935 poem. “This poem keenly illustrates the dangerous side of that power. How the written word can be a weapon of mass destruction.”
Using the entire gallery space, Ravi presents four distinct bodies of work that highlight the self-taught artist’s skill with assorted mediums. The exhibit’s nucleus, the cleverly titled “Mightier Than,” twists the old adage about pens and swords into a sculptural graveyard of realistic assault rifles. Crafted from vintage typewriter parts, the installation startles from a distance, and sickens up close. The exhibition’s emphasis on the power of pernicious words runs parallel to the rise of complex AI language models, like ChatGPT, and their far-reaching implications. Already riddled with ethical problems, the new, more sophisticated models still generate copy with glaring inaccuracies and obvious bias.
These Five Kings also includes new prints, paintings, and drawings that expand the exhibit’s central themes of communication and power. A longtime student of mythology, religion, and history, Ravi combines multiple threads of knowledge to create an alternate universe filled with esoteric symbols, fantastical imagery, and snippets of text taken out of context. The resulting work—influenced by Mughal painters, Japanese woodblock artists, Flemish primitives, and abstract expressionists—functions as a common language, one created entirely by Ravi’s own hand. “Our hands are only made more precious and more invaluable by this strange turn of history,” says Ravi. “What we make with our hands and who we share it with becomes more beautiful and more profound.”
“Our hands are only made more precious and more invaluable by this strange turn of history.” — Ravi Zupa
All photos published with permission of the artist(s).
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