Monday, August 26, 2013

A 'progressive' art journey

The progressives rejected the Bengal school’s ‘revivalistic’ methods, and also opposed the academic styles followed at the schools that were set up by the British. The group tried to mark the passage of the age of nationalism and a disengagement of art from historical exigencies.

Founded in 1947, the Progressive Artists Group (PAG) consisted of six rebellious and restless artists, who were keen to ‘look at the world outside from a very Indian way, and not a British way.’ They primarily included Francis Newton Souza (an outspoken personality chiefly credited with founding the group), SH Raza, Sadanand Krishnaji Bakre (the group’s only sculptor), Krishnaji Howlaji Ara, Hari Ambadas Gade and Maqbool Fida Husain.

Its emergence was essentially a reaction to the then dominant streak in the form of the Bombay Art Society. It had dismissed FN Souza as amateur and even rejected KH Ara’s work ‘Independence Day Procession’. The two along with HA Gade launched a group. Souza brought MF Husain whereas Ara and Gade brought in SK Bakre and SH Raza. They together started exhibiting their works to a wider audience.

There were regular meetings and discussions held that built a fraternal feeling, warmth and also an exchange of ideas. Each of them had his own unique style: Ara’s beguiling nudes, Husain’s earthy sensuality, and the frank sexuality of Souza, for example.

Other noteworthy modern artists who later joined the group included Vasudeo Gaitonde, Ram Kumar, Akbar Padamsee, Mohan Samant, Krishen Khanna and Tyeb Mehta. The creation of the group and their individual evolution as artists of repute were invariably entwined with aspirations of newly independent India.

Apart from their personal trajectories, the most significant thing about them was not merely their unconventional work, but the circumstances under which they joined forces – to make an emphatic artistic statement. It is important to put the contribution of Progressives and other younger artists associated with them like Krishen Khanna, Padamsee, Bal Chhabda and Tyeb Mehta in a specific historical context.

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