Viraj Khanna: Carving His Own Path In The World Of Art

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Two years in to the world-changing event and we are settling into the new life perspectives and different career journeys it led us down. A lot of our five-year plans got tossed out the window and new ideas took their place. This is a feeling Viraj Khanna is all too familiar with. “I never even thought of venturing into anything creative myself until the first lockdown,” says the collage artist, sculptor and fashion entrepreneur. After all, necessity is the mother of invention, right?

And how could you be far from creativity when your mother is the revered fashion designer, Anamika Khanna? For Viraj, it started with finishing his undergraduate studies in business management and joining the family business. It was his twin Vishesh, in fact, who was looked at as the person to take over design duties while Viraj would handle the management and finance side. Then the pandemic hit. “During the first lockdown, we were running out of content for our Instagram page. There were 300-400 fashion magazines at home; I decided to cut them up and create collages. This was the first time I tried my hand at anything creative; it sparked my art journey. After sharing a few of my collages on Instagram, Somak Mitra who runs the gallery Art Exposure India, contacted me and asked me to do a show,” Viraj says.

Now on to his second collection, titled ‘What My Mother Didn’t Teach Me… & Some Things She Did!’ displayed at Tao Art Gallery, it appears the artist is fully tuned into his creative expression and language. This latest show includes sculptures, mixed-media paintings, textiles and NFTs. “I want the viewer to enter this surreal world, think about the effects of society and its influences on them. I want people to consider how much of their actions are a result of influence, and how much of them are to do with their own true nature,” he says of his work as we chat with the young creative.

ELLE: How has tapping in to your artistic side influenced your perspective?

Viraj Khanna (VK): My art is a reflection of my world. It has helped me realise that as human beings, we are all the same and each of us is beautiful in our own way. The way we behave and act quite often is only circumstantial. Gradually, as we grow, the influences of society and the things around us, make us ‘appear’ different.

ELLE: Why and how did you come to choose collage as your primary medium?

Viraj Khanna: I think what you see and interact with the most in your immediate surroundings plays a huge role in what you create and experiment with. I was surrounded by collages during the lockdown and textile is something I work with on an everyday basis. Looking after the embroidery aspect of the business helped me develop a certain aesthetic. When we sample for our embroideries, we use different materials; there is a constant experimentation process of combining these materials. I look at collage work in the same way, where I cut up various elements from magazines and start putting them together. The pandemic was the reason I started working with collages. And even though my work has evolved from that point, collage work still forms the blue print for everything I make. For instance, the sculptures and textiles I make are first created in smaller form as a collage.

ELLE: Tell us about your experimentation with different mediums.

VK: The sculptures were something that I just wanted to play with and fibreglass was the easiest material with which to start. There will be a lot more mediums I will work with in the future. I think if we have something to say in particular, it can be expressed through a variety of mediums. Some people relate more to a certain medium as compared to another, and therefore, giving them different options to understand your work is always helpful.

ELLE: Is there a particular piece that holds special significance?

VK: There is a sculpture of a superhero. This superhero isn’t aspirational like Batman or Superman but it is more representative of the world we reside in. I want the viewer to think about how this superhero is representative of the day and age we live in….and I think everyone could have their own opinion because of the universality of the theme.

ELLE: Who are some of the artists whose work resonates with you?

VK: KAWS is extremely courageous and Damien Hirst is a visionary. Javier Calleja’s paintings and sculptures are really moving and George Condo’s visual aesthetic really intrigues me.

ELLE: With this shift, now what is your vision for the future?

VK: I want to work with international galleries such as Perrotin, Pace, and Hauser and Wirth to showcase the finest textile techniques of India. The artisans in Bengal are some of the finest in the world; preserving this craft is very important. Working directly with them, I am aware of their reluctance to continue this work and their rush to find different, more stable jobs. They also don’t want their children to become karigars; it becomes extremely important to preserve what we have while we can.

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