Rajive was born the same day the Dalai Lama and the Pope met for the first time at the Vatican. “My birthday seemed to me to symbolize the birth of Transcendental Fusion,” Rajive says, referring to his genre of artwork, a reflection of his entire life, meaning, “the coming together and rising above of different cultures, religions, and philosophies.” Rajive is as commanding in robes as he is in a raw silk suit and with an adept fluidity easily wears clothes from any corner of the world — as long as they are authentic. East meets West in Rajive’s sherwani, a traditional coat once worn by the Muslim nobles of India and Pakistan. He custom-designed his with intricate embroidery inspired by Spider-Man, his favorite icon of Western pop culture whose “Indian”-shaped eyes, he felt as a kid, resembled his own. The child of a former Russian/Polish Catholic nun and an Indian college professor, Rajive feels, “… growing up, I didn’t see a lot of images that reflected who I was as a person of mixed cultures– so, I developed my own. I didn’t have to look far to see how the collision of diversity manifests. It’s in my nature to be the juxtaposition of these things.”
Growing up neither from “here nor there” during a time when xenophobia was high freed Rajive from life in the monoculture of suburban American life. That state of non-belonging instilled in him a voracious, life-long wanderlust and identification with Bardo, the Tibetan state of becoming between one thing and the next. Not one to stand in front of a monument and take a photo, when Rajive travels, he says, “I try to associate myself with the parts of that culture that I identify with… then, I create images to bring the experience back with me.” Everything from folkloric Tibetan boots, beaded vests, loafers, and Shetland sweaters fill his closet. He speaks Spanish, French, Hindi, Urdu, Thai, and a smattering of German, Khmer, Finnish, Vietnamese and Dzongkha, switching as easily between them as he fuses Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man with Shiva, the deity of destruction in one of his paintings. Rajive renders Western superheroes in the ancient Thai style of Khon mask-making, re-imagining the American demi-god Batman as a demon out of the Ramayana.
Putting well-known archetypes in a foreign context is Rajive’s way of re-inventing the status quo, which includes himself, teaching high school art in the New York City public schools in vintage army jackets covered with jewels, the newest Doc Martens or a Tibetan rosary made of human bones. In American blue jeans, crocodile-skin cowboy boys and a red silk shirt from Thailand, the kind you get on any street corner in Bangkok for 100 baht (about 4 dolllars), tattoos that recall everything from his mother’s Catholicism to Eastern ritual daggers, a silver Nepelese medallion with turquoise and coral as his go-to necklace and his grandfather’s signet engagement ring from 1939, Rajive is a potent reminder of the liberation that can be found in the space between cultures. “I wasn’t bound by anyone’s rules,” he concludes.