M. F. Husain, Sprinkling Horses

Photo Essay: Raza, Souza, Husain in landmark exhibition in New York

Seminal artworks from a dramatic time in Indian art history

By Smita Tripathi

  • Published 2.11.18, 6:04 PM
  • Updated 3.11.18, 2:35 PM

Asia Society Museum, New York, is hosting a landmark exhibition, which opened on September 14, exploring modernism in India in the years following independence. The Progressive Revolution: Modern Art for a New India spotlights seminal artworks by members of the Progressive Artists’ Group. It explores how its artists—from different social, cultural, and religious backgrounds—found common cause at a time of dramatic upheaval.

The exhibition comprises over 80 spectacular artworks, primarily oil paintings from the 1940s to 1990s. Represented are the Group’s core founders—K. H. Ara, S. K. Bakre, H. A. Gade, M. F. Husain, S. H. Raza, and F. N. Souza—as well as later members and those closely affiliated with the movement: V. S. Gaitonde, Krishen Khanna, Ram Kumar, Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee, and Mohan Samant.

The exhibition is organised by guest curator Dr. Zehra Jumabhoy, Associate Lecturer, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London and Boon Hui Tan, Vice President for Global Arts and Cultural Programs and Director of Asia Society Museum in New York. They comment here on key works in the exhibition.

Radhika Chopra and Rajan Anandan's Collection, Asia Society Museum, New York
Photo Credit: Radhika Chopra and Rajan Anandan's Collection, Asia Society Museum, New York

Krishen Khanna, News of Gandhiji’s Death, 1948, Oil on canvas. In 1948, Mahatma Gandhi was shot by right-wing religious extremists. Khanna’s painting is a balancing act of horror and hope. Here, newspapers are clutched in the hands of people from the different faiths of India’s population Muslims, Christians, and Hindus all gather in grief. As we step back from the painting we realise that the fragmented group comes together to form a map of the subcontinent. ZJ

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Rajiv and Payal Chaudhri Collection, Asia Society Museum, New York
Photo Credit: Rajiv and Payal Chaudhri Collection, Asia Society Museum, New York

Tyeb Mehta, Mahisasura, 1997, Acrylic on canvas. Mahisasura is the name of the devious, shape-shifting buffalo-demon who is eventually killed by the Goddess Durga – in her Mahishasuramardini form. In Mehta’s version we see the two locked in mortal combat, but each appears to fold into the other so it is difficult to discern where Durga begins and the demon ends. Good and evil, victor and victim are impossible to prise apart. ZJ

Blanca and Sunil Hirani Asian Art Collection, Asia Society Museum, New York
Photo Credit: Blanca and Sunil Hirani Asian Art Collection, Asia Society Museum, New York

F. N. Souza, Untitled, 1962, Oil on canvas. This portrait of a large-headed figure in a suit is composed with a profusion of organic forms resembling flower heads and stamens. Souza balances his typical aggressive imagery and bold lines with the sensuous and tender possibilities of color and texture to produce a highly distinctive image. This monumental painting was once owned by Robin Howard, a prominent art supporter in post-war London. BHT

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The Darashaw Collection, Asia Society Museum, New York
Photo Credit: The Darashaw Collection, Asia Society Museum, New York

S. H. Raza, Haut de Cagnes, 1951, Gouache on paper. Painted in 1951 soon after Raza’s arrival in Paris, Haut de Cagnes is a product of the artist’s encounter with Europe. Two rows of stylized houses cut across the canvas. Except for glimpses of a castle tower, medieval ramparts, the forms are reduced to essential geometric forms. There are no visible signs of human presence. A large black sun hangs over the top left corner of the painting. This would later became the defining bindu motif in Raza’s landscapes. BHT

Peabody Essex Museum, Gift of the Chester and Davida Herwitz Collection, 2003, Asia Society Museum, New York
Photo Credit: Peabody Essex Museum, Gift of the Chester and Davida Herwitz Collection, 2003, Asia Society Museum, New York

M. F. Husain, Peasant Couple, 1950, Oil on canvas. While Nehruvian India was associated with scientific innovation, Husain’s paintings often privilege the rustic grandeur of the village and its hardy folk. Here, the earth-hued couple appear to merge with their pastoral setting. Husain reached his aesthetic zenith in the 1950s, following close on the heels of Peasant Couple. As Husain fabricates a visual language for a ‘secular’ India, he draws from both Mughal miniatures and pre-Islamic traditions of South Asia. ZJ

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Christie's Images Limited, Asia Society Museum, New York
Photo Credit: Christie's Images Limited, Asia Society Museum, New York

M. F. Husain, Sprinkling Horses, ca. 1975, Oil on canvas, Anonymous. Husain first started painting horses in the early 1950s. His compositions are distinguished by the energetic and startling juxtaposition of horse and rider. Husain’s horses were visibly inspired by Tang-dynasty horses and the horse paintings of twentieth-century Chinese master Xu Beihong, following his visit to China in 1951. BHT

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