Posted on: 20 April 2014

The Progressive Artist's Group, Bombay:

Monsoon in Bombay, by Syed Haider Raza, watercolour on paper, Bombay, ca. 1947-1949

Painting, in watercolour on paper, depicting the Flora Fountain with surrounding buildings in central Bombay during the rainy season. The artist has applied the paint in a manner which makes the finished effect look hazy, as if the painting itself has been left out in the rain.

Syed Haider Raza (1922) was an influential member of the Progressive Artists' Group (PAG). PAG was one of a number of Left-wing groups that were active in the 1930-40s Indian cultural scene. In this context, theatre professionals, writers and visual artists united under the 'progressive' banner and loosely endorsed Left-wing ideals to produce and circulate art together. PAG, founded in Bombay in 1947, included artists Francis Newton Souza, Krishnaji Howlaji Ara, Syed Haider Raza, Hari Ambadas Gade and Sadanand Bakre. PAG members rejected the nationalist art propounded by the Bengal School and embraced the Surrealist, Expressionist, Primitivist and Cubist styles of the international avant-gardes.

Raza was born in the village of Barbaria in Madhya Pradesh. In 1947, he joined PAG and developed a bold, colour-rich abstract style. In 1950 the artist won a French government scholarship and went to study painting at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Here, he continued experimenting with western modernist visual idioms moving away from Expressionism and developing an entirely abstract visual language.

During the late 1950s, he began to incorporate elements of Tantrism- an Asian philosophy that seeks to creatively appropriate the energy of the Godhead, creator and keeper of the universe- into his own work. This restulted in paintings that focused on the circle or triangle as the souce of energy. Raza returned to India and travelled extensively, visiting the caves of Ajanta and Ellora and the towns of Benaras, Gujarat and Rajasthan. In 1956 he won the Prix de la Critique in Paris and in 1961 he joined the art department of the University of California in Berkeley. In 2000 Raza's work explored Indian literary themes, including the Mahabharata. The artist, whose work has been exhibited internationally, currently lives in Southern France.

Copyright: © V&A Images

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