When modern masters met

Updated: Jul 01, 2019, 07:28 IST | Shunashir Sen

An exhibition opening this week shows how MF Husain and SH Raza, despite seeming differences in their art, had a fair bit in common

When modern masters met
Untitled (horses) by MF Husain

MF Husain and SH Raza. If you close your eyes and imagine an artwork by each of these two modern masters, it's possible that two wholly different paintings will take shape in your mind. Husain's might feature horses. Or it could be Hindu goddesses. Or maybe it's a haunting image of Mother Teresa. But Raza's would typically be centred on the bindu, his idea of the epicentre of all human energy — the kundalini — that came to consume his artistic output later in life. People who've followed his early career might also imagine a European landscape, with a church dominating a blurry canvas. Either way, the images that form in your mind would be different, although — and here's the point — if Husain's is chalk, Raza's isn't cheese even if it might seem like that.

The reason, unlike their art, isn't as abstract. And an exhibition named Divergent Confluences that will open at a SoBo gallery this week will highlight where the common ground between the two masters lies, and why at the same time they can be poles apart. It will explain how both spent their formative years in Madhya Pradesh and how the apple of their art didn't fall far from tree, despite them travelling the world extensively later on. Then there was the shared education they received at JJ School of Art. Mumbai in the '50s became the breeding ground in which their fertile minds planted the roots of Indian modernism. Husain and Raza were the founding members of Bombay Progressive Artists' Group. Together — along with the likes of FN Souza — they cocked a snook at existing methods of approaching Indian art and gave birth to a new order that still influences modern painters. So out went, say, the Bengal School of Art. And in came a rebellious, distinctly Western ethos that put this small, contemporary artistic community firmly on the global map.

Prem Bindu by SH Raza
Prem Bindu by SH Raza

But even though they never lost sight of their starting point, they later chose to go down different creative paths. That's where the divergence in their craft lies, says Puneet Shah, the founder of the gallery where the exhibition will be held. "Raza went away to Europe and stayed there for a while, before finally returning home. But Husain stayed back in India and after making lots of trips to the West, eventually moved out," he tells us, explaining how these disparate career trajectories informed their overall body of work.

It's why Raza, if we take only his example, became obsessed with the bindu. It was his way of finding meaning within a complex artistic prism that contained both the western ideas of abstractionism and the Indian way of thought.

Puneet Shah
Puneet Shah

But the convergence between the two always remained in their shared ideology as members of the Progressive Artists' Group. The legacy that this collective has left behind is, in Shah's words, incredible. "The impact is unparalleled because if you look at what they did in the 1940s, '50s and '60s — at a time when art wasn't as popular and there was no market really — [you'll see that] they stuck to their passion, creating something so contemporary that it resonates with people even now," he says, adding that this wasn't a body of people who were scratching each other's backs. Each had his own artistic voice and went on to form a distinctive style. The confluence of an ideology, in other words, led to a divergence of forms.

From: July 4 to 31
At: Akara Art, 1st floor, 4/5 Churchill Chambers, 32 Mereweather Road, Colaba.
Call: 22025550

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