‘The Archies’ in Los Angeles: Art Curator Rajiv Menon Celebrates the Impact of Globalization with Inaugural Exhibit ‘Item Number’

'The Archies' Culture Creators screening in Los Angeles — brought to you by Netflix and Brown Girl Magazine | Photos by Pratham Bhardwaj

In celebration of Zoya Akhtar’s newest film, “The Archies.” the following Q&A is a part of Netflix and Brown Girl Magazine’s first-ever community-driven ‘Culture Creator’ screening series — featuring community leaders doing impactful work in New Jersey, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Zoya Akhtar’s latest film, “The Archies,” is an Indian take on the popular Archie comic books that became a staple for South Asian youngsters both in the subcontinent and abroad. The musical is set in a fictional hill station named Riverdale and features all of your favorites — Archie, Veronica, Betty, Jughead, Reggie, Ethel, and Dilton with an Anglo-Indian twist — all of whom are dealing with the woes of growing up and standing up for what you believe in. 

The group bonds over their love of Riverdale’s Green Park, which features years of ancestral history and is being threatened by a corporation’s plans to build a hotel in its place. Ultimately it’s art in its different forms — from Archie’s music group to Reggie’s journalistic PSA to Dilton’s radio show — that help save the park from the greedy clutches of Lodge Industries.  


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Just like the kids in “The Archies” made a difference on a local level in their community, Brown Girl Magazine partnered with Netflix to highlight local culture creators in four cities across the U.S. that embody the community-driven ethos of the film. Rajiv Menon’s work as an art curator was highlighted in Los Angeles, where his gallery Rajiv Menon Contemporary seeks to showcase emerging South Asian artists. Menon earned his Ph.D. from New York University where he studied global media and visual culture with additional coursework from The Sotheby’s Institute, and is an avid art collector himself.

[Read Related: Revisiting the Nostalgic Charm of ‘The Archies’ with Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti]

Menon’s work is centered on advocating for South Asians and the various diasporas through art, preserving and pushing the culture forward through old and new perspectives in dialogue with one another. His gallery’s inaugural exhibit “Item Number” featured artists with roots across the Indian subcontinent, from different class and caste structures, and from all different age groups and identities. For Menon, Rajiv Menon Contemporary aspires to be a place where “we can come together and celebrate our own successes.”

He spoke with Brown Girl Magazine’s long-time contributor Radhika Menon about “The Archies,” the impact of globalization on art, making art in an increasingly capitalistic society, and his journey to the art world and what’s next for Rajiv Menon Contemporary. 


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Celebrating and preserving their community is the central goal for the characters in “The Archies,” similar to how your work has long centered on uplifting the South Asian diaspora across different mediums. Why has that been so important to you? 

I’ve been working in media for about 10 years right now and I’ve always been really interested in working specifically within my community and diaspora. There have been incredible things happening with the visibility of South Asian people globally and culture — in social media, digital creation, film and TV, we actually are present in the culture in a really big way. 

But I also saw that certain mediums were becoming especially dominant and having to represent so much of the culture through a very limited view. Social media became very central to us being represented and visible, but then digital influencers were expected to talk about everything under the sun; we’ve had incredible film and TV opportunities to tell our stories, but creators are expected to tell everyone’s story and to represent the entire community. 

I saw a great opportunity in the visual arts where South Asian artists are driving the conversation globally. We’re making records at auctions, entering major museums, and having huge solo exhibitions across the country. But whenever I went to these exhibits or events, South Asian people weren’t participating. We weren’t given the opportunity to be a part of our own success. 

Between those two streams — the overreliance on digital and a focus on pop culture being the representation of everything, and the lack of our community engagement with the arts — I saw an opportunity to bring them both together to create a gallery space that can create a dialogue with entertainment and with other mediums, and also be a place for us to come together and celebrate our own success.

After your Ph.D., you spent your career initially working in TV and film as a producer. Can you speak more to the impetus behind shifting your focus to art and creating your gallery?

More than anything, I saw a space that wasn’t being embraced by our community but had potential to really create big change because there’s a sense of permanence that comes with art — especially if it’s collected in significant ways or ends up in museums. It means that future generations will be able to go and engage with art in this way. I felt a real need from my work in the media to invest in that sense of permanence. 

Often our sense of South Asianness or South Asian culture is really closely related to trends or things that are really active in digital media, but are oftentimes very ephemeral. They’re temporary and are, by design, not meant to last. Because of that, it’s become really important for me to think about what will create that sort of legacy for our culture. How can we ensure that our impact on the culture is seen generations from now and really well into the future? I wanted to invest in that future.

How did you get interested in art specifically?

I was really lucky. I grew up in Houston, Texas, which surprisingly does have a really strong art and museum scene and I got the opportunity to see a lot through that. In my Ph.D. I focused on visual culture, which was half on media and half on contemporary art, so I had the opportunity to study art in a more formal setting. At NYU, I was surrounded by galleries and that was a really quick way for me to explore the city and learn more about art. 

Once I was able to, I started collecting art myself and I saw how life-changing of an experience it was to get to support artists and to feel like I was participating in the creation of a sense of culture. I realized I wanted to give other people the opportunity to have the same experience. Participation is such a big thing here. When we watch films and TV, we gather like this. We’re all participating in the creation of a common culture and pushing the culture forward. The art gallery space is an incredible way for us to do that and challenge the way people see and think about us and think about our culture in general. 

I think what’s so exciting about art is that it shows us things we’ve never seen before. It’s about pure innovation and creativity, and telling us to think about the world in drastically different ways than we’re used to. That, above all else, made me want to invest in the idea of spreading art as a way for us to think about our culture more deeply.

Hal’s bookstore and The Gazette subplots speak a lot about the intersections of capitalism and greed with art. How are you thinking about art sustaining in an increasingly commercial society, and have your feelings changed over time?

I go back to the way that our visibility is often related to platforms like Instagram and TikTok: they’re really great for increasing our visibility and giving us a form of self expression, but are also primarily used for marketing and advertising. There’s a real blurring that happens where it’s hard to distinguish cultural expression from personal branding, memes, or insight. 

For me, it became really important to create spaces where our culture can be experienced by us, not filtered through the lens of consumerism. While I want everyone to come in and support the artists and buy art if you can, it’s free to go to an art gallery. I want it to be a space where we can be thinking about culture in a way that isn’t necessarily tied to how we’re spending our money. One of the big goals I have for the gallery is to lead to a lot of museum acquisitions where the art will be in permanent collections and where not only you can go see it for free, but future generations [can too].

Related to that, one of the core tenets of your gallery’s mission is making the sophisticated world of art accessible to anyone. How do you plan on doing that through your work and your gallery?

I’ve seen artists who dilute their vision because they’re worried that it won’t be accessible to a wider audience. I want to do something a little bit different. I want to make connoisseurship. I want to make the ability to appreciate and love and be moved by art more accessible. I don’t want to have to have the artistic vision be altered in some way. I want someone to come into the gallery and feel comfortable talking to me about the art, asking questions, and finding different ways of relating to the art. I think through that, the question of accessibility can be answered. It can be about expanding the audience’s capability or appreciation alongside making the art accessible to be seen.

“The Archies” movie is an Indian take on an American comic book, and a lot of the artists that you featured in your inaugural exhibit “Item Number” were South Asians who were reimagining themes that we typically think of as Western ideas — like nudity and sexuality. In this moment of globalization in the arts, how do you think the eastern and western lenses play off of each other, both in the movie and in the work that you do? 

I’ve seen this criticism lobbed at work coming from South Asia — that it’s derivative from the west or it’s mimicking what’s been seen globally, but I actually think there’s a much deeper perspective that ‘The Archies’ exemplifies. The theorist Homi Bhabha, who is one of the founding theorists of postcolonial studies, points to the way that if you’re in a diaspora or a formerly colonized country, Western influence is just thrust upon you. You don’t have an opportunity to pick and choose what you want to reference or what you want to be looking at because it’s just a fact of life. It’s just been brought there. 

What’s emerged from that is this hybridization — taking these component parts from the east and the west and making something that feels wholly new and creative has become this profound South Asian art form. It’s something that’s really rooted in our contemporary sense of culture across film, music, and art. So when I see something like ‘The Archies’ that takes a classic Western piece of intellectual property and transforms it into this beautiful slice of life story about the Anglo-Indian community in India, I see a lot of potential for us to engage in global conversations by reimagining what those look like and how we can change what Western and Eastern look like to create something new.

One of the key takeaways from “The Archies” is the idea that you’re never too young to make an impact. “Item Number” featured artists of all different ages who seek to change the world through the storytelling in their art. Tell us a little bit about your curation process.

I wanted to do a sweeping landscape of emerging artists right now, but I also wanted to look at different generational perspectives. [We had] artists who are fresh out of school and seasoned artists who are further in their career but still had profound things to say about the culture. One thing I’m very cognizant of is that, while we have historical ties, in many ways our presence in the US really didn’t get going until 1965. We’re a very young community within this country in the grand scheme of things, so new and young perspectives really add a lot to the way we’re thinking about culture. Bringing them into dialogue with people who have vastly different generational perspectives was really important to me. 

The film emphasize that art is a connective tissue across generations, locations, identities, and experiences. What is your advice for those who want to learn more and get involved with the art world?

One of the most important things you can do is actually get out and go see art. Go to these spaces, talk to people and get more context. See what actually moves you and see if you’re attracted to a certain type of work. When you find something you like, go deeper. Starting conversations and not being afraid to ask questions is one of the most important ways to get involved. Beyond that, if you’re interested in actually collecting art and investing, talk to gallerists and get their advice. 

I also recommend Artsy, an app to help discover art and to learn more about artists. It’s a good tool to help you find out what galleries in your area are showing stuff that you might like and how to navigate what may seem like a complicated and unwelcoming world. But I want people to feel comfortable in these spaces and I think there’s a lot to be discovered and a lot of joy and emotion to be found spending time around art.

“Item Number” wrapped its run last month in Silver Lake. When can we expect the next Rajiv Menon Contemporary curated exhibit?

We will have our next exhibit in February 2024. The theme of the show is called “Now Streaming” and is thinking very specifically about how to bring artists from India to the United States in the same way that film and television is brought here through streaming. The first show was very focused on South Asian artists based in the west and our encounters with Western culture. This second show is about artists who are actively working and exhibiting in South Asia who often don’t get the opportunity to show in the US, but represent this really vital cohort of new media and perspectives and challenging what norms look like from the subcontinent itself. I hope to see everyone there in the gallery — the opening is February 13. 

To learn more about Menon’s advocacy work and to be in the loop about upcoming gallery exhibits, follow @rajivmenoncontemporary on Instagram. ‘The Archies’ is now streaming on Netflix.

Radhika Menon
By Radhika Menon

Radhika Menon is a freelance entertainment writer based in Los Angeles, with a focus on TV and film. Her writing … Read more ›