Artist Abdul Aziz Raiba lives in a shanty in Nallasopara, in suburban Mumbai. His neighbours don’t even know an artist lives in their midst. He lives a reclusive life surrounded by his works. Raiba fell into obscurity, as he never obtained the commercial success of other modernist painters of his time.
But thanks to a group of art curators such as Sumesh Sharma and Anant Nikam (also a professor at the JJ School of Art) a retrospective exhibition of his works is now being held.
Says Sharma, “Raiba’s paintings are relatively unknown today, but during the 1960s till the late 1980s he was at the peak of his career and was known for his sketches on Khadi and handmade cotton paper.” But lack of motivation to engage with the art market coupled with a few bad experiences with unscrupulous dealers, forced Raiba to withdraw himself from public view. “Some dealers purchased his works and sold it at double the value without giving him due credit,” Sharma says.
Now at 90, Raiba has little to prove. This graduate in Fine Arts from JJ rediscovered himself in 1980 after pursuing an evening course in graphic print-making that give his subsequent paintings a traditional as well as modern touch. His most famous works such as History of Bombay, the Baramasa of Keshavdas and Mirza Ghalib won him recognition from art critics. Explains Sharma, “He is known for his landscapes but his paintings are like visual episodes on history. He researches a subject and earlier would travel to a town or a state to bring back a correct representation of a place through his own experiences. Once he had disguised himself as a Kashmiri Pandit to gain access to the temples of South India.” The current exhibition showcases 41 paintings done over a span of 76 years and is on display at the Main Hall of the JJ School building.