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Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Even if you are giving a Syed Haider Raza masterpiece the most cursory of looks, its hard to miss the 'Bindu' or the dot. Depending on which way you look at it, it is in turns a manifestation of the centre of the canvas, the frame or the universe. The iconic 'Bindu' makes its distinct mark in most of the paintings on display for the first time in Singapore. Realms of possibilities open through the geometric designs. The lines may be seemingly distinct, the colours stunning and in that moment as you go from blue, to beige to a stunning orange then red, you are drawn into the web of its creator. I fall in love with two of the pieces, I know I shouldn't even attempt checking the price, the pieces are priceless after all. Though if money is no object and you have cash to spare, US $40,000 could start some talking.

It can't for me, even if I dug really deep, so I absorb myself into deeper admiration of the work this artist who celebrated 85 years on the 22nd of February. Together with M.F. Husain, K.H. Ara and F.N. Souza, Raza started the Progressive Artists' Group. Formed in 1947, the Group made a vital contribution to the contemporary art movement in India by seeking a new form to describe the Indian reality immediately after the country's independence. The group may not have had a very long run - it dissolved in 1956 - but it gave the pre-eminent Indian artists of our times the form, voice and platform they were looking for.

It's been manifested through the acclaimed art works of these masters. Some like Raza moved away from Indian shores, though the ties that bound them to their roots drew them back. A scholarship from the French government to study art in 1950 took Raza to the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Expectedly, he shone, his paintings got the attention they deserved and the awards poured in. In 1956, he was awarded the Prix de la Critique, various exhibitions around the globe followed. Then came the prestigious Padma Shri awarded by the Indian government in 1981.

The awards didn't stop the critical examination apparent in his work. Take 'Germination' for instance or the rendition of 'Om' - all of which together with the other pieces on display take you from germination, growth, decay and resurgence all in one master sweep. If geometry is at work here, it happens to be that of the sublime. As I take one last look at the pieces before heading home, I know, I for one couldn't ask for a more fitting tribute to a real master.

'Celebrating 85 Years of Raza' is on at the SG Private Banking Gallery at the Alliance Francaise, 1 Sarkies Road, Singapore till the 3rd of March. Gallery opens 11am-7pm.