Monday, March 25, 2013

'Miniature to Monumentalism': Retrospective of AA Raiba

'Miniature to Monumentalism': AA Raiba Retrospective
Opening: Monday, March 25, 2013 | 4pm-6pm
Exhibition continues till 6 April 2013 | 10am-6pm | Sundays closed.
Sir JJ School of Fine Art Building | Main Hall Gallery
Caption: AA Raiba, '4th Year Party', made in Sir JJ School of Art, 1947
In the early months of 1943, Abdul Aziz Raiba began his association with the Sir JJ School of Art after being offered a scholarship by the dean Charles Gerard. He graduated with a Diploma in Fine Arts in 1946, and was appointed a Fellow to the painting department for a year in 1947. He returned to his alma mater in 1980 enrolling himself for an evening hobby course in Graphic Print Making at the Print-Making Studio while accompanying his senior who was seeking admission at the Faculty of Architecture. Seven decades later Raiba returns to the College with a retrospective that inquires into his practice, exploring his experimentations with medium, methods of research that inform the subject of his paintings and the unique approach towards exhibition making.
Professor Prabhakar Kolte, who was a young lecturer at JJ while Raiba was at the printmaking studio recounts memories of him sitting in the lawns that surround the faculty while he worked on linoleum plates (linocuts). Though by then Raiba had found success and was considered a senior, Kolte found him an affable man who was friendly with students often showing them his charcoal sketches of nature and architectural studies he had done while on the lawns across from the Victoria Terminus, Crawford Market and the Neo-Gothic School of Art building designed by George Twigge Molecey. Architecture often found resonance in Raiba's practices. Intrigued by a book he found at the JN Petit Public Library at Fort, on Portuguese Bombay, Raiba began researching on visual residues of Portuguese monuments destroyed  by the British in an attempt to purge the Portuguese from the Western Coast and desecrated in modern times by a rising population that began to spread  from the islands of Bombay across the creek into Vasai displacing the East Indian Christians who inhabited the fishing villages near the Portuguese forts of Vasai,  Naigaon and Sopara. This research of interesting mythical accounts from the city were illustrated by Raiba in his show 'Bombay XVIII Century' in 1975, of a Dargah (mausoleum of a Muslim Saint) of the Siddis - descendants of Abyssinian slaves. Being a Konkani Muslim from the coast of Maharashtra, Raiba's interest in the city's history was natural. Though he came from a family that had adapted Urdu as their primary language among themselves having published Bombay's first Urdu newspaper, the Raibas married only into Konkani families from towns that dotted the coast around Bombay and they worked traditionally at the city's port authority. The Konkani's were one of India's earliest Muslim communities descendants of Arab sailors who had settled on the coast and converts from Hindu families who often retained their Hindu family names. They were ruled by an Abyssinian Dynasty of Murud and Janjira that often waged maritime wars with the Marathas, British and the Portuguese for control over cities of Bombay, Bassein, Sopara and Chaul. In many villages inhabited by the Konkani Muslims, such as Korlai south of Bombay, Christian communities converted by the Portuguese later called East Indians by the British, and till now speak a Portuguese creole. In the period preceding this exhibition Raiba was forced out of his home in Temkar street, the Konkani Muslim locality near the JJ School due to the collapse of the building he lived in and dire financial constraints that led to his migration to Vasai, now a suburb of Bombay, a city it preceded in history. In the years after JJ Raiba lived in Kashmir, and the Pahari Hills of North India, developing his study of perspective in landscape and collecting motifs and visual techniques from the miniature painters there. He developed a habit of maintaining a record of exercise books with sketches of his studies and folk motifs as reference material, a practice he continues today. Collected through various research trips he made around India, his works that illustrate a mythical history of Bombay, reference a lot of material he collected from his travels to Kerala and much later his last ever such trip to Goa. Though the Bassein Fort in Vasai returned often in his works, so did shark-fishing, rice terraces and the temple near the tank often seen on the Konkan coast.
Kolte remembers visiting his exhibitions at the historic Taj Art Gallery, in the Taj Mahal Hotel, a venue much used by the modernists. On one such visit he was surprised at Raiba's use of jute and a mixture of clay and glue as his canvas. Raiba then told him that it was imperative of an artist to battle financial constraints with creativity and use any medium to maintain one's practice, citing an example of using cow dung within the miniature tradition of Indian painting. Raiba until now has grappled with financial constraints. Sakina Mehta,  recounts her memory of Raiba who was a good friend of her husband the painter Tyeb Mehta. Tyeb would often visit Raiba's home where his mother would feed them with rice bloated with Alum so it could fill their stomachs. Raiba began using discarded pieces of glass after he saw glass paintings in Chor Bazaar, using many layers of glass, painting them and placing them one over other to create deeper perspectives depicting portraits of Muslim and Marathi couples much akin to the mica paintings of the Company Painting School. For a mural he was commissioned to make at the entrance of the Gokuldas Tejpal Concert Hall in Bombay he painted tiles with musical instruments firing them in a vitrum studio, a technique taught to him by Rudy Von Leyden. His experimentation of medium might have been urged by his dire financial constraints, it may have arisen from his training as a miniaturist from the revivalistic Bombay School where the students were required to make the surfaces of their paintings called 'Vasli' in Urdu. Presently in his studio that faces a miniature garden in the suburb of Nala Sopara, Raiba endlessly makes sketches on Khadi or handmade made cotton paper, preferring its coarseness for its affinity to jute.  
Though considered a master by many of his contemporaries, and in spite of receiving excellent critical reviews of his exhibitions, he fell into obscurity as he never saw equal success commercially as the other modernists of his time. Secondly he would prepare extremely researched exhibitions that would study a subject in detail. Exhibitions would be based on themes such as the History of Bombay,  Kashmir: Miniature to Monumentalism, Metaphysical Paintings, the Baramasa of Keshavdas, Mirza Ghalib and Islamic Calligraphy. He would design invites in innovative shapes and Moderist typography, and being a poet himself incorporated translations of Allama Iqbal and stylistic elements of Islamic calligraphy. In one of his last self-designed invitations, he apologises for the lack of a large body of works. His inability to create a substantial body of work, and self-curated shows, led him into retirement from actively exhibiting in the 1990s. Over the last decade having been cheated by unscrupulous dealers and lacking motivation to engage with the art market, he withrew from public view.
Raiba believes his practice to be unfinished even today. On the initiative of Professor Anant Nikam, Dean Vishwanath Sabale leant works from his academic years at the college to for the exhibition. Last year the students of the printmaking studio published a portfolio of serigraphs that were screen-printed from the sketchbooks of AA Raiba detailing his practice over the last seventy years. Works from private collections, and from AA Raiba himsef span from a period of 1943 to 2013 will be seen as a part of his retrospective collection. 
Caption: AA Raiba, Vasai series,1982
Curated by Professor Anant Nikam (Sir JJ School of Art) and Sumesh Sharma (Clark House Initiative) 
Collections: Sir JJ School of Art, Madhu and Abhay Shah, Chaturbhuj Sharma, Kanchan Khubchandani, Najib Raiba.
Sir JJ School of Art Campus, Dr. D. N. Road, Fort, Mumbai-400001
Phone: +91-9820213816 | +91-9820512352 |

Narendra Raghunath
Ph: +91 98 44 888 244

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