May 08, 2013


Of the  first six fire brands who began their  fiery career in art by declaring open  the Progressive Artists Group of Bombay on July 7, 1949 at Bombay Art Society's Salon,  Sayed Haider Raza was the last of them. The others F.N.Souza, the spirit behind the group, M.F.Hussain, Krishenji Howlaji Ara, Sadanad Bakre, H,A,Gade left their indelible mark  on Indian art and left the world. M.F.Hussain, had almost touched hundred years, before he said good bye to this world. He had a wonderful success. Although hounded, those who did it knew very well that they could not take away  even a speck of his credentials as one of  greatest artists India has ever produced.

But the story Sayed Haider Raza, born on February 22, 1922, is entirely different. Hailing from Madhya Pradesh, he had wonderful childhood  among surroundings of raw nature, as his father Mohammed Haider Raza was a forest officer. But  the times he  saw in late Forties and early Fifties were terrible due to Freedom Struggle and subsequent Partition. Bombay did not provide him any luck, where he settled to become an artist. His parents died in quick succession and his brothers and sister left for Pakistan. He was alone with his friends Souza, Hussain and other members of PAG. His style at that time was landscapes in waters colours  and mundane images which also fetched him good money. But then  not much was told on why he chose to go to Paris. But he went there, joined  Ecole Nationales des Beaux- Arts there, met  Janine Mongillat, a co student and married her and remained faithful to her till her death in 2002. He spoke with ease  Hindi, Sanskrit and French.  He had also held exhibitions of his works along with Akbar Padamsee and  F.N.Souza  which  brought into notice of Europe.

It is also unknown , what sparked in him to turn to  metaphysical idioms in abstracts . Critics attributed it to  his teacher in school, who made him to stare at a point on the black board to  gain concentration. This according to critics, during the course of time  stimulated him to create the ‘Bindu’ concept. Whatever the reason, ‘Bindu’ became an instant success and an exclusive genre of Raza. In fact,  the world began to see India through his art. His geometric abstracts were not messysplashes of paint, nor they were meant to mean vapid expressions. Those perfect lines and angles spoke of his absolute clarity of thought and expression. During one of the collectors' sessions at Art Summit ,an art collector while narrating  her experience as art collector, said that , as and when she heard about  Raza doing something new, she would fly to Paris,  would meet  him and  would sit with him to get assurance that the painting under making would be hers, no matter what the price  would be !!  It may be redundant to say again and again that it was Progressive Artists Group that took India into the Modern and Contemporary Art, but it has be  said. But for them it could not have been possible.

Among those who became the Progressive Artists on July 7, 1949, only two received the honors of being artists from the Government of India. M.F. Husain and S.H.Raza. Raza received  Padmashri in 1981 and became a Fellow of Lalit Kala Akademi. Like Souza, Hussain , Raza's works too fetched mind boggling sums in Art auctions. His “Saurashtra” was reported to have gone under hammer for  $1.4 million. It is just one of the many. The Government of Madhya Pradesh, in 1978, gave him grand accolades and gave him KalidasaSamman. This year it was apt for the Government of India to decorate Raza with Padma Vibhushan.  Among those six great men, Raza is the second one to get Padma Vibhushan. The first being M.F. Husain in 1991. It has also been proved with this award that India loves its artists, no matter what genre they follow, no matter what  they expound, no matter where they live. At 91, Sayed Haider Raza deserves every bit of what he got today.

The President Pranab Mukherjee presenting the Padma Vibhushan Award to Sayed Haider Raza at an Investiture Ceremony-II at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on April 20, 2013