BFFs with Raza, Souza and Husain

Updated: Feb 10, 2019, 09:19 IST | Ekta Mohta

Art Musings, in Colaba, is thriving 20 years after it began, thanks to the close friendships it formed with its artists, especially the holy trinity

BFFs with Raza, Souza and Husain
Sangeeta Raghavan and her mother, Shanti Chopra, against an installation by Smriti Dixit. PIC/Suresh Karkera

Art Musings, a gallery in Colaba, had two birth mothers and three founding fathers. While Shanti Chopra, 82, and her sister Kasturi Wadhwani, 77, paid for the space, artists Sayed Haider Raza, Francis Newton Souza and Maqbool Fida Husain adorned its walls. "They gave us the shoulders on which we stand so strongly today," says Sangeeta Raghavan, Chopra's daughter, who runs the studio today. Chopra is on last-name basis with India's biggest artists because she was among their earliest patrons. "My husband and I always collected a little bit of art here and there," says Chopra. "Once we went for a show at Birla Matoshri, and they had an auction of a nude by B Vithal. In those days, `3,500 was a princely sum, but I bid for it. He [Vithal] asked, 'How can a lady bid for a nude? I would like to meet her.' So I met him and then, of course, I became very good friends with him. One day he told me, 'Shanti, you need to begin [a gallery].' Then Souza came into the picture, then Anjolie Ela Menon, Husain saab. We had a great time starting it and I don't think we have ever looked back."

Sangeeta Raghavan
Artists at Art Musings: (left to right) Jayasri Burman, Paresh Maity, Jitish Kallat, Anjolie Ela Menon, Laxman Shreshtha, Reena Saini Kallat, SH Raza, Sujata Bajaj, Baiju Parthan and Samir Mondal

This year, though, the gallery is looking back. Having completed two decades, Art Musings is going to host a weeklong exhibition in Jehangir Art Gallery, with 20 new works by the living artists on its roster. After which, it will take the exhibition home. "We will bring four artists to this space [in Colaba], and every two months the show will change," says Raghavan. "We have four basic viewing galleries, so each artist will get their own room. At the end of the year, we will release a book, which will show works from our private collection of Husain, Raza, Souza, KG Subramanyan and Ram Kumar. [The artists] who really gave us our feet."

For the three gallery owners, their artists have been like kith and kin. Paresh Maity, who signed on with Chopra, says, "My journey with them began before Art Musings was even born. So, I am part of the family: not only with my art, but with my whole being." Smriti Dixit, who signed on with Raghavan, says, "We started off like any artist gallery-relation, in which the artist is looking for places to show their work. Today, they are my extended family. Now, when any new idea occupies my mind, the first people I share it with are my sister and Sangeeta."

This warmth goes back a long way, to the time Chopra was Raghavan's age. "Souza was always sitting at home," says Chopra. "When we started the gallery, he said, 'I'll give you lots of work.' [In fact], he was going to do a solo in my gallery before he passed away [in 2002]." Raghavan, who was a fashion show choreographer for 25 years before she joined the family business in 2003, adds, "My initiation [into the gallery] was very organic. We grew up seeing this.

The gallerists with Sakti Burman
The gallerists with Sakti Burman

B Vithal and B Prabha would be over all the time. Anjolie was a dear friend. My mother was very close to Husain saab. Visiting artists in their studios and watching them paint [was normal]. I remember spending hours with Razaji in Paris or Gorbio, in the south of France. It was something that just happened."

So when Raghavan wanted to make her mark in the space, she approached Raza directly. "I told Razaji, 'I want to do a solo with you.' He was like, 'Very ambitious girl. I'll give you two large works and 10 small ones.'" To start her personal collection, she approached Souza directly. "In 1995, Souza was staying at home, and my father and he would sit and laugh the whole day. I told him, 'Francis, I want to buy a painting.' He asked, 'Can you afford it?' I told him I'll give him `5,000 for one painting. So he showed me some 10 paintings; I bought two for `10,000, which are still on my wall." If Raghavan makes buying a Souza sound like picking paint samples, it's because "Francis and I were too casual. I never really thought of him as an artist as much as my dad's friend. Once we were sitting here and he was wearing — as all artists do — this slightly torn T-shirt. He said, 'I have no time. Come on, let's go down. There's this export surplus guy.'"

Following this, Raghavan has built her personal collection with an eye on the masters. "My collection at home is dominated, unfortunately, or fortunately, by what I call the trinity, which is Raza, Husain and Souza." She is her mother's daughter, after all. "My mother had bought a Husain painting once for `5,000. It was a beautiful painting of a black-white-and-grey horse. I remember the choice then was buying a pair of solitaires and buying a painting, and she chose the painting."

What: The 20th: Celebrating two decades of Art Musings
Where: Jehangir Art Gallery, 161B, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Kala Ghoda, Fort
When: February 12-18; 11 AM to 7 PM

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