Sayed Haider Raza’s (1924- 2016) biography, titled The Journey of an Iconic Artist by art historian Yashodhara Dalmia was launched on February 25 at the gardens of Embassy of France in Delhi. The event took place amidst bougainvillea trees, tea lights and copious champagne. “I cannot think of a more appropriate place to launch a biography of the artist,” said Dalmia who worked on the book for five years.
“Not only there are superb works by Raza hanging in these premises, I also remember his presence here countless number of times, the last one being in the year 2015 when he received the Legion of Honour (highest French Civilian Award). There was a look of pleasure on his face throughout the evening,” said Dalmia. Raza left for Paris in 1950 on a twoyear old scholarship and spent over half a century there. Dalmia says, “He lived in Paris with his French wife Janine Mongillat (an artist herself) and in Gorbio, southeastern France, where he had his studio and spent the summer months.
He was French in many ways, but also retained his Indian nationality. He gained his knowledge and skill by placing himself in France. It gave him a sense of the vital elements which constitute art, but he also felt that without the presence of divine forces a work of art cannot take place, divya shaktiyon ke bina chitr nahi bante.” Dalmia observed a kinetic force in the geometrical shapes that defined Raza’s paintings. “When the Bindu first emerged in his work in the early ’80s, it was a latent force of void which was simmering with energy. Radiant reds, yellows and blues, made his work special.
His words in the Devanagari script of poets and writers resonated medieval miniature tradition. In Festival d’Avignon, (Reaching for Each Other), in 1995, Raza’s paintings were shown along with the recitation of poetry by Ashok Vajpeyi.” Vajpeyi, who is the Founder of The Raza Foundation, was also present on the occasion, said that it was a remarkable feat to convert the life of an artist who gave 75 years of his life to painting into a narrative of 250 pages book. Especially since the artist grew up in one of the 10 hutments in Mandla district in Madhya Pradesh and went on to become an iconic name in the art world.
“It is very inspiring what human creativity, imagination and persistence can achieve,” said Vajpeyi, while adding, “The ambition is that this centenary year becomes the largest ever celebration of this Indian modern artist across the country.” The newly-launched biography in English will also be published in Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam, Marathi, Urdu, and other regional languages. Meanwhile, veteran art critic Geeti Sen’s second edition of Bindu: Space and Time in Raza’s Vision, has been reissued. “I met Raza saheb in the mid 70s and spent almost five years on the book.
His works evolved from his landscape works to cosmos, which then transformed into abstractions,” said Sen. Plans are also underway to organise one of the largest retrospective of the artist’s works on June 9 at Centre Pompidou, one of the highly-prestigious museums in France. “The show will feature nearly 103 artworks and earlier works of the artist, which were lost.” In a conversation with The Morning Standard, H.E. Mr Emmanuel Lenain, Ambassador of France to India, said it was a matter of great pride for him to organise the event.
“As India will complete 75 years of Independence next year, we are working on many events as culture is a very strong bond between two countries. Along with the major exhibition in France on Raza, we are also planning a scientific exhibition in India as well. India is invited to be the guest of honour at Paris Book Fair this year.” As Raza’s glory continues to be celebrated across the world, it makes us hope many talented artists will also find their way like the iconic artist did. May his light lead the way.