It was an initiative of the Piramal Museum of Art to present S.H. Raza’s paintings at their museum in Mumbai. Traversing Terrains is the first major exhibition of the artist since his death in 2016. Curated by Vaishnavi Ramanathan, curator and art historian, Piramal Museum of Art, and Ashvin E. Rajagopalan, Director, Piramal Museum of Art, the exhibition was inaugurated in June and will be on till 28th October. The exhibition showcases five decades of Raza’s work from the early 1940s to the late 1990s — his early days in Mumbai, his travels around India, his experiences in parts of France, including Gorbio, and eventually his metaphorical return to his Indian roots.
One of the most significant artists in Indian Modernism and a founder member of the Bombay Progressives, S.H. Raza’s diverse body of work is a unique amalgamation of his classical French training at École des Beaux-Arts, Paris, and his exposure to post-war American abstract expressionism.
Raza’s works are imbued with the Indian visual language of his heritage, celebrating the country’s iconography, nature, philosophy, music and poetry. The exhibition traces his development as an artist and philosopher, whilst offering insights into his contributions to post-Independence Indian abstraction.
The artworks on display highlight Raza’s significant influence on his peers, including the Bombay Progressives Group.
“We thought it was important to present this exhibition not only because of the significance of Raza’s works, but also because he arrived in the Indian art scene at a very critical juncture. Though he lived in France, his works were deeply rooted in India and are a result of a lifelong quest to get to the essence of the visible world around,” informs Vaishnavi.
A museum visitor will find some of his landmark artworks bolstered by letters, publications, critiques of his work and other documents, drawing a human story amidst the aesthetic pleasures of viewing over 30 artworks by this Master.
S.H. Raza – The Legacy Continues
Syed Haider Raza (S. H. Raza), born in 1922, is one of India’s most renowned modern painters who accomplished incredible success around the globe during his career. Educated at the Nagpur School of Art, and thereafter at the esteemed J.J. School of Art in Bombay (1943-1947), Raza was a founding member of The Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group (Est. 1947), alongside F.N. Souza, K.H. Ara, H.A. Gade, M.F. Husain, and S.K. Baker. The group rebelled against the revivalist nationalism of the Bengal School of Art and ignited a new Indian avant-garde movement engaging closely with contemporary currents in international art, motivated by a desire to create a new language of Indian aesthetics.
Raza was awarded a scholarship to study at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, in 1960, and is one of the notable Indian artists who worked in the West for a signifi cant part of his life. He explored and experimented with different tides of Western Modernism, and emerging trend of American Abstraction, shifting gradually from a figurative painting style to more abstract forms. Raza’s canvases in the 1950s and 1960s incorporate picturesque, bucolic French villages, the epitome of Expressionist landscapes. In 1956, Raza became the first non-French artist to be awarded the prestigious Prix de la critique and six years later, in 1962, he became a visiting lecturer at the University of California in Berkeley.
By this point in his career, Raza was moving steadily towards greater abstraction. Raza received the Padma Bhushan from the Indian government in 2007 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2013. He was conferred Commandeur de la Legion d’Honneur (the Legion of Honour) by the government of France, just before his death in 2015.