Ragini Chawla’s paintings capture the small moments that punctuate life’s most meaningful occasions. In her latest solo exhibition, “Last Glass of Cola,” the artist focuses on banquet events like weddings and other ceremonies, with their inherent issues of class, labor, politics, and personal drama.
Every work in the show was made in the past two years and shares the title of the exhibition, as if each were but a freeze frame lifted from the day’s events. The paintings are bold and full of character. Some have been installed on freestanding panels, surrounded by clusters of chairs that invite viewers to keep them company. Playfully awkward, the arrangement makes it feel as though you might be the first to arrive at a wedding party and must navigate the room to determine the most attractive seat.
In contrast to those almost filmic scenes of tablecloths, flower arrangements, and unclaimed chairs are more intimate portraits of women, disconnected from the empty function rooms. In these images, Chawla brings to the fore the invisible labor that facilitates the occasions hinted at in the other paintings. A delicate drawing of a woman shown from behind, hunched over in concentration, is annotated on one side with the inscription “cooking with love, for yourself, for the food, for the people you feed.” Other works zoom in on hands in a sink full of suds, the inevitable cleanup.
In “Last Glass of Cola,” we never see the event itself. Instead, Chawla gives us what comes before (the preparation and its attendant intimacies, the host venue bristling with potential) and what comes after (the titular final sip, the lights shut, everybody home.) What happens in between is left to the imagination.