New Delhi: One of
India's oldest and best-known contemporary artists, S.H. Raza, at
88, has just begun work on a new series of art to mark his
homecoming after six decades in Paris. He says he wants to live in
India as a "tax-paying, Hindi-speaking" citizen.
"I have sold almost all my old works in Paris. I brought back a
few small art works. So, I have just started sketching once more.
Galleries are queuing up to exhibit my work," Raza told IANS in an
Raza, who has held a French passport all these years, has
purchased a home comprising two elegant floors of an apartment
block in the Indian capital - to embark on a new phase of creative
career. He wants to exhibit his new body of work.
The homecoming art series is a set of random sketches of trees,
huts and complex patterns in ink inscribed with the words "bindu"
(dot), central to all his compositions, and "avartan"
The word "avartan" is a gift from friend Ashok Vajpeyi, the
chairman of the Lalit Kala Akademi, the artist said.
He created auction history last year when one of his works, "Saurashtra",
Rs.16.42 crore ($3.5 million) at a Christie's auction. The massive
acrylic composition on canvas was purchased by the Kiran Nader
Museum in Noida.
It was unveiled for public viewing by the museum as a permanent
exhibit on its new premises in Saket here Wednesday.
Raza had left India in 1950 after winning a scholarship to the
Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts and lived in Paris for
more than 60 years. He was part of the elite group of Progressive
Artists with M.F. Husain, F.N. Souza, K.H. Ara and V.S. Gaitonde.
He returned to India Dec 29 last year.
"I am happy to be back to India. I came back alone. My wife (she
was French) passed away in 2002. My siblings scattered long ago
and some of them are dead. I returned because I love the Hindi
language and am attached to it," the artist said.
He is trying to reconnect to his roots.
"I visited Rajghat and the Hindu temple at Chhatarpur and want to
go to Barbaria in Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh where I was
born. I have to assimilate with the environment and I want to live
as a tax-paying Indian citizen," Raza said.
His return to India marks a renewal of the contemporary art
fraternity's ties with the Mumbai-based Progressive Group of
Artists who tried to take Indian art out of his European cast to
give it a distinct Indian identity.
"F.N. Souza, M.F. Husain and I went our own way while Ara and
Gaitonde remained committed to the progressive school," Raza said.
The artist remembers his days of "debates and clashes" in Mumbai
as a member of the Progressive Group of Artists when everyone had
"The year was 1947-48. India was independent and we were thinking
what artists should do about art. We exchanged ideas because we
had to go to a new direction. Indian art was being taken seriously
across the world," he said.
"I said the Bengal modern school had given us a new direction but
Souza was very outspoken and could not see eye to eye. Working
together was not an easy thing. You have to be alone to work," he
"But I want Husain to return. I met him in London last year," Raza
said. Husain, who has been frequently targeted by members of the
Hindu rightwing in India, is now based in Qatar and is a citizen
of the Gulf country.
Raza owes his aesthetic identity to the "bindu" that he learnt in
school, when his schoolmaster drew it on a white wall and told him
"I forgot all about it for 30 years, when it resurfaced when I
asked myself one day at the pinnacle of my artistic career in
Europe where was the Indian element in my work," he said.
"I automatically thought of the 'bindu' and it returned to my
work, along with the pancha tattwa - the five basic colours of
red, yellow, black, blue and white," he added.
Raza's work was secular but with defined Hindu mystical
influences, the artist admitted. "Hindu art is really
extraordinary and important whereas Muslim art is architectural
and decorative representing the faith," Raza said.
Raza was honoured with the Padma Bhushan in 2007.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)