Even though Indian painter Sayed Haider Raza, popularly known as SH Raza, settled down in France in the early 1950s, he continued to represent the country's art by incorporating Indian philosophy and cosmology in his works. Born on February 22, 1922, in Babaria, Madhya Pradesh, Raza's centenary year is being celebrated in India by his friends and admirers.
The Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), established by art collector Kiran Nadar in 2010, is also celebrating the late painter’s strong history through the ongoing exhibition titled ‘Traversing Space: Here and Beyond’.
The retrospective marks the centenary of the master artist and includes many works from the KNMA collection, but also other important works from various Raza collections.
In an interview with Firstpost, Nadar talks about the impact of Raza in Indian art history, and how he has influenced her life. She also talks about the growing interest in art in the post-COVID era.
Commemorating the SH Raza centenary, how have his life and works contributed to the world of art?
Syed Haider Raza developed a language of art rooted in Indian tradition but also influenced by his worldview. This particular exhibition explores his evolution as an artist from his early paintings capturing landscapes, terrains, and rural habitats with a frenzied spontaneity where his brushwork captures the hustle and bustle of everyday life. To his evolution to the Bindu, the brooding, black hole that finally rises as the repository of all energies and life-giving forces. The circle represents the breadth of the universe, alluding to its expansion and contraction and creating a fine balance between spatial structures and the process of time. Raza’s impact on the world of art was immense and immeasurable.
How did he inspire your life as an artist?
Raza’s work has always been impactful. His works around the Bindu theme are often mesmerizing and meditative. His creativity is incalculable, and his skill and understanding of nuances of line and colour are inspiring. For me, he is one of the most incredible artists of his time.
Would you like to take us through the inspiration and idea behind your ongoing exhibitions?
Two of our exhibitions are a celebration of centenaries, this includes SH Raza’s Traversing Space: Here and Beyond Centennial Exhibition and Somnath Hore’s Birth of a White Rose. Our Atul Dodiya show Walking with the waves is significant because it captures approximately 180 of his pandemic works. The K Ramanujam exhibition Mythopoetic Universe is an extensive showcase of the reclusive genius master artist.
Besides this, we have Convergence: A Panorama of Photography’s French Connections in India. This is in collaboration with the French Embassy and focused on 75 years of India’s independence. It has been curated by Rahaab Allana.
Finally, at our Noida location we have - INNER LIFE OF THINGS: AROUND ANATOMIES AND ARMATURES curated by Roobina Karode (Chief Curator and Director, KNMA). This exhibition brings forth independent projects by 15 artists whose investigations are rooted in the ecologies of co-existence as well as the enigmatic life of objects and materials beyond and autonomous from human perception.
It is often seen that because of a lack of funds and interest, the artist in India is losing inspiration – do you agree?
I believe in passion and patience, and we at KNMA try our best to provide a platform to highlight artists and artisans. It is incredibly hard to succeed as an artist, a journey filled with hardship and struggle. I think many people and institutions are trying to bridge the gap and make it easier for artists, however, we need many more people like this to make a significant difference.
With the return of in-person art fairs and exhibitions, do you think digital formats of art still hold an important place?
For me, there is very little that can replace the experience of viewing art in person. The joy of returning to art fairs and exhibitions is hard to replicate. However, digital forms of art are also important, offering wider outreach and inclusivity. For example, over the last few years since the coronavirus lockdown, we have offered virtual exhibitions and walkthroughs, talks, seminars, online film festivals, workshops, and mini-series based on art and culture. Digital also offers convenience, the comfort of your own home, and at times that suit the viewer. Through this, we were able to reach new, curious audiences both children and adults, and pique their interest in art.
Has the digital format given a new definition to art consumption and if this has attracted youth to connect with the art and culture of India?
Digital formats have definitely increased access to new audiences. Almost by default, our younger audiences have grown since they are more likely to adopt new technologies and experiences. Keeping this in mind, we have tailored a lot of our online offerings to cater to this demography.
You have spent noteworthy years looking at the changing scenario of art in India and abroad- what are the most significant changes you have noticed?
I think one of the main changes is the shift towards sustainability. While this is often inherent in our normal ways and culture, it has become more pronounced in recent years. Highlighted by the pandemic, the need to shift to greener practices is more urgent. It is amazing to see the innovation and thought process of artists as they move towards less waste and more conscious practices.
Please talk about the difference between the pre and post-Covid art world in India
I think one of the most significant things to emerge in post-Covid art is the emerging theme of loneliness and isolation. For example, one of our current exhibitions is Atul Dodiya’s ‘Walking with the Waves’ which is on display in our Saket space. It captures the feelings and emotions that were quite pronounced during this tumultuous period. Dodiya painted one watercolor a day in an attempt to preserve his own sanity and artistic composure. He dwells upon solitude and social isolation and the inner turmoil that he experienced which led to a new manner of creative expression.
Nivedita Sharma's work experience includes covering fashion weeks in Milan, Pakistan, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Dubai, and award functions like IIFA, and TOIFA.