Progressive Artists Group of Bombay: An Overview
The Spirit of Late 1940s and Early 1950s
By Ratan Parimoo and Nalini Bhagwat
Although the first exhibition of the Progressive Artists Group was held in 1949, in the then Bombay city, the group came formally into existence as early as 1947, in a meeting held on December 15, (which was reported in ‘Blitz’ dated Dec. 20 of that year). The arbitrary selection at the current exhibitions of the Bombay Art Society had prompted some artists and critics to organize such a meeting. The persons who spoke at this historical conclave included the artists Souza, Raza and Ara besides the critic Rashid Hussain. Expressing their utter disappointment with the judging and the lack of principle on which the exhibits were accepted for display, they insisted that the Judging Committee should be an elected body who should be able to justify before the public their choice of exhibits based on specific art values. The artists were especially perturbed over the rejection of same remarkable paintings like Ara’s ‘Independence Day Procession’. Rashid Hussain criticized the old orthodox critics and declared the necessity of the artists taking initiative in developing a conscious art patronage among the masses with deliberate social purpose in their art. Newton (Souza initially referred to himself by this name) exhorted that artists should get together to thrash out common problems and initiate the development of a new national art. Ara demanded that artists should have freedom, ‘svatantrata’ for their expression and should overthrow the living corpse of the worshippers of false art. Before this meeting, four of the artists had already met and decided to exhibit their works together. These were Ara, Raza, Souza and Bakre. Two more were added soon. Hussain was persuaded by Souza while Gade was brought into the fold of the PAG by Raza. Bakre who had been convinced by Ara, was already in the Group. They decided to limit the number of members at six in order to avoid stylistic scramble. The title ‘Progressive’ was inspired from the Progressive writers’ movement which was started in Indian literature by the Marxist novelists, poets and fellow travelers at a conference held in 1936. The PAG had an anti-Imperialist outlook and the objective of ‘bridging the widening gulf between the artists and the life of the people’ was declared in the short manifesto.