10:59
TEDxSummit

Raghava KK: What's your 200-year plan?

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You might have a 5-year plan, but what about a 200-year plan? Artist Raghava KK has set his eyes on an ultra-long-term horizon; at TEDxSummit, he shows how it helps guide today's choices and tomorrow's goals -- and encourages you to make your own 200-year plan too.

- Artist
Raghava KK's paintings and drawings use cartoonish shapes and colors to examine the body, society, our world. Full bio

About 75 years ago,
00:16
my grandfather, a young man,
00:18
walked into a tent
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that was converted into a
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movie theater like that,
00:24
and he fell hopelessly in love
00:26
with the woman he saw on the
00:28
silver screen: none other than Mae West,
00:29
the heartthrob of the '30s,
00:33
and he could never forget her.
00:35
In fact, when he had his daughter
00:37
many years later, he wanted to
00:39
name her after Mae West,
00:41
but can you imagine an Indian
00:42
child name Mae West?
00:44
The Indian family said, no way!
00:45
So when my twin brother Kaesava
00:47
was born, he decided to tinker
00:50
with the spelling of Keshava's name.
00:52
He said, if Mae West can be M-A-E,
00:54
why can't Keshava be K-A-E?
00:58
So he changed Kaesava's spelling.
01:01
Now Kaesava had a baby boy
01:04
called Rehan a couple of weeks ago.
01:06
He decided to spell, or, rather,
01:08
misspell Raehan with an A-E.
01:10
You know, my grandfather died
01:12
many years ago when I was
01:14
little, but his love for Mae
01:16
West lives on as a misspelling
01:18
in the DNA of his progeny.
01:20
That for me is successful legacy. (Laughs)
01:22
You know, as for me,
01:25
my wife and I have our own
01:27
crazy legacy project.
01:28
We actually sit every few years,
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argue, disagree, fight,
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and actually come up with our
01:34
very own 200-year plan.
01:36
Our friends think we're mad.
01:38
Our parents think we're cuckoo.
01:40
Because, you know, we both
01:41
come from families that really
01:43
look up to humility and wisdom,
01:44
but we both like to live
01:47
larger than life.
01:49
I believe in the concept of
01:50
a Raja Yogi: Be a dude before
01:51
you can become an ascetic.
01:54
This is me being a rock star,
01:56
even if it's in my own house.
01:57
You know?
01:59
So when Netra and I sat down
02:00
to make our first plan
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10 years ago, we said
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we want the focus of this plan
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to go way beyond ourselves.
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What do we mean by beyond ourselves?
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Well 200 years, we calculated,
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is at the end of our direct
02:15
contact with the world.
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There's nobody I'll meet in
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my life will ever live beyond
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200 years, so we thought
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that's a perfect place where
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we should situate our plan and
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let our imagination take flight.
02:27
You know, I never really
02:28
believed in legacy. What am I
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going to leave behind? I'm an artist.
02:32
Until I made a cartoon about 9/11.
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It caused so much trouble for me.
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I was so upset.
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You know, a cartoon that was
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meant to be a cartoon of the week
02:44
ended up staying so much longer.
02:45
Now I'm in the business of
02:48
creating art that will
02:51
definitely even outlive me, and
02:52
I think about what I want to
02:55
leave behind through those paintings.
02:56
You know, the 9/11 cartoon
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upset me so much that I decided
03:00
I'll never cartoon again.
03:04
I said, I'm never going to make any
03:05
honest public commentary again.
03:06
But of course I continued
03:08
creating artwork that was honest
03:11
and raw, because I forgot about
03:13
how people reacted to my work.
03:15
You know, sometimes forgetting
03:17
is so important to remain idealistic.
03:19
Perhaps loss of memory is so
03:22
crucial for our survival
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as human beings.
03:26
One of the most important things
03:28
in my 200-year plan that Netra
03:30
and I write is what to forget
03:31
about ourselves.
03:34
You know, we carry so much
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baggage, from our parents,
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from our society, from so many
03:38
people -- fears, insecurities -- and
03:40
our 200-year plan really lists
03:44
all our childhood problems that we have to expire.
03:46
We actually put an expiry date
03:49
on all our childhood problems.
03:50
The latest date I put was,
03:53
I said, I am going to expire
03:54
my fear of my leftist, feminist
03:57
mother-in-law, and this
04:00
today is the date! (Laughs)
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She's watching. (Laughter)
04:05
Anyway, you know, I really
04:07
make decisions all the time
04:12
about how I want to remember
04:14
myself, and that's the most important
04:15
kind of decisions I make.
04:19
And this directly translates
04:20
into my paintings.
04:22
But like my friends, I can do
04:23
that really well on Facebook,
04:25
Pinterest, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube.
04:27
Name it, I'm on it.
04:29
I've started outsourcing my
04:30
memory to the digital world,
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you know? But that comes
04:34
with a problem.
04:36
It's so easy to think of
04:37
technology as a metaphor
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for memory, but our brains
04:40
are not perfect storage devices
04:42
like technology.
04:44
We only remember what we
04:45
want to. At least I do.
04:46
And I rather think of our brains
04:47
as biased curators of our
04:50
memory, you know? And if
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technology is not a metaphor for
04:55
memory, what is it?
04:57
Netra and I use our technology
04:59
as a tool in our 200-year plan
05:02
to really curate our digital legacy.
05:04
That is a picture of my mother,
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and she recently got a Facebook account.
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You know where this is going.
05:14
And I've been very supportive
05:15
until this picture shows up
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on my Facebook page. (Laughter)
05:19
And I actually untagged myself
05:21
first, then I picked up the
05:24
phone. I said, "Mom, you will
05:26
never put a picture of me
05:27
in a bikini ever again."
05:28
And she said, "Why? You look
05:30
so cute, darling." I said,
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"You just don't understand."
05:35
Maybe we are among the first
05:36
generation that really understands
05:38
this digital curating of ourselves.
05:40
Maybe we are the first to even
05:42
actively record our lives.
05:43
You know, whether you
05:46
agree with, you know, legacy
05:47
or not, we are actually leaving
05:49
behind digital traces all the time.
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So Netra and I really wanted
05:54
to use our 200-year plan
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to curate this digital legacy,
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and not only digital legacy
05:59
but we believe in curating
06:01
the legacy of my past
06:02
and future.
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How, you may ask?
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Well, when I think of the future,
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I never see myself moving forward
06:11
in time. I actually see time
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moving backward towards me.
06:15
I can actually visualize
06:17
my future approaching.
06:19
I can dodge what I don't want
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and pull in what I want.
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It's like a video game obstacle
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course. And I've gotten better and better
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at doing this. Even when I make
06:27
a painting, I actually imagine
06:29
I'm behind the painting,
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it already exists, and
06:33
someone's looking at it,
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and I see whether they're
06:36
feeling it from their gut.
06:37
Are they feeling it from their
06:38
heart, or is it just a cerebral thing?
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And it really informs my painting.
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Even when I do an art show,
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I really think about, what should
06:46
people walk away with?
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I remember when I was 19,
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I did, I wanted to do my first
06:51
art exhibition, and I wanted the
06:53
whole world to know about it.
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I didn't know TED then,
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but what I did was I closed
06:59
my eyes tight, and I started
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dreaming. I could imagine people
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coming in, dressed up, looking
07:05
beautiful, my paintings with all
07:07
the light, and in my visualization
07:09
I actually saw a very famous
07:12
actress launching my show,
07:13
giving credibility to me.
07:16
And I woke up from my
07:17
visualization and I said,
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who was that? I couldn't tell
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if it was Shabana Azmi or Rekha,
07:22
two very famous Indian actresses,
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like the Meryl Streeps of India.
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As it turned out, next morning
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I wrote a letter to both of them,
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and Shabana Azmi replied,
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and came and launched
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my very first show 12 years ago.
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And what a bang it started
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my career with! You know,
07:42
when we think of time in this
07:43
way, we can curate not only the
07:46
future but also the past.
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This is a picture of my family,
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and that is Netra, my wife.
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She's the co-creator of my
07:56
200-year plan.
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Netra's a high school history
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teacher. I love Netra,
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but I hate history.
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I keep saying, "Nets, you live
08:05
in the past while I'll create
08:07
the future, and when I'm done,
08:09
you can study about it."
08:11
(Laughter)
08:12
She gave me an indulgent smile,
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and as punishment, she said,
08:16
"Tomorrow I'm teaching a class
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on Indian history, and you are
08:20
sitting in it, and I'm grading you."
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I'm like, "Oh, God." I went.
08:24
I actually went and sat in
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on her class. She started by
08:28
giving students primary source
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documents from India, Pakistan,
08:32
from Britain, and I said,
08:35
"Wow." Then she asked them to
08:37
separate fact from bias.
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I said, "Wow," again.
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Then she said, "Choose your
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facts and biases and create an
08:47
image of your own story
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of dignity."
08:52
History as an imaging tool?
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I was so inspired.
08:57
I went and created my own
08:59
version of Indian history.
09:00
I actually included stories from
09:02
my grandmother.
09:03
She used to work for the
09:04
telephone exchange, and she used
09:06
to actually overhear conversations
09:07
between Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten.
09:08
And she used to hear all
09:10
kinds of things she shouldn't
09:12
have heard. But, you know,
09:13
I include things like that.
09:16
This is my version of Indian history.
09:17
You know, if this
09:20
is so, it occurred to me that
09:24
maybe, just maybe, the primary
09:26
objective of our brains
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is to serve our dignity.
09:30
Go tell Facebook to
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figure that out!
09:35
Netra and I don't write our
09:36
200-year plan for someone else
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to come and execute it
09:40
in 150 years. Imagine receiving
09:42
a parcel saying, from the past,
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okay now you're supposed to
09:46
spend the rest of your life
09:47
doing all of this. No.
09:48
We actually write it only
09:49
to set our attitudes right.
09:51
You know, I used to believe
09:53
that education is the most
09:57
important tool to leave
09:59
a meaningful legacy.
10:00
Education is great.
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It really teaches us who
10:03
we are, and helps us
10:05
contextualize ourselves
10:06
in the world, but it's really
10:07
my creativity that's taught me
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that I can be much more
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than what my education told me I am.
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I'd like to make
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the argument that creativity is
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the most important tool we have.
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It lets us create who we are,
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and curate what is to come.
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I like to think -- Thank you.
10:26
I like to think of myself
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as a storyteller, where my past
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and my future are only stories,
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my stories, waiting to be told
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and retold. I hope all of you
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one day get a chance to
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share and write your own
10:43
200-year story.
10:45
Thank you so much.
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Shukran! (Applause)
10:47
Translated by Joseph Geni
Reviewed by Morton Bast

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About the Speaker:

Raghava KK - Artist
Raghava KK's paintings and drawings use cartoonish shapes and colors to examine the body, society, our world.

Why you should listen

Raghava KK began his career in art as a newspaper cartoonist, and the cartoonist’s bold line -- and dead-on eye for truth -- still powers his art. His work spans painting, sculpture, installation, film and iPad art, always linked by his challenging opinions on identity, conformity, gender, celebrity, ceremony. (He even views his lavish Indian wedding as a piece of performance art.)

His early work as a painter made a complete break with his cartoon career -- he painted watercolors on canvas using only his hands and feet. Since then, his work has grown to knit together aesthetics from both worlds, as collage and complication play against flat color and precise lines. He shows in galleries and performance spaces around the world and often collaborates with other artists, most recently with musicians Paul Simon and Erykah Badu.  In 2011, he launched his children's iPad book, Pop-it, shaking up the concept  of an ideal family. He is currently working on a project that promises to shake up everything! From news to education.

More profile about the speaker
Raghava KK | Speaker | TED.com