The Biography of A Painting
Abdul Aziz Raiba | Retrospective
Opens Friday 28 October at 5.30 pm
AA Raiba explained by Ben Shahn - Both in the posthumous
Opening Preview 28th October 2016 - 5.30 pm to 9.00 pm
All sales will have a 10 percent contribution from the sale price to the Estate of AA Raiba and a 10 percent contribution to Clark House
Exhibition will continue until 27th November 2016 and is open on all days except Monday.
ART Night Thursday 10 November
Extended Gallery Hours 6 - 9.30 pm.
For Sales contact: Abhay Raj Shah 9820636131
Clark House would like to thank Najib Raiba and Abhay Raj Shah for their personal collections that constitute the exhibition.
The Sir JJ School of Art Printmaking Studio will also sell an edition of serigraphs 15 in number of drawings made by AA Raiba which are numbered and signed. The sales of JJ School editions are used for the AA Raiba Scholarship which along with the Krishna Reddy Clark House Scholarship are the only bourses available to students of printmaking in Bombay.
Modernism of thought and form might have never been at conflict in contexts of modernism, though we have definitive schools that largely could disagree with each other from cubism to DADA. In India it was literature that sprung ideas of modernist inquiry into culture ushered by the intellectual discourse of India's movement for self-determination and freedom. One such group were the Progressive Writers Group or the Anjuman Tarraqi Pasand Mussanafin-e-Hind. Progressive ideas in literature questioned the yolk of colonisation and the feudal hierarchies that had been well nurtured in a society based on the discrimination of caste that had left the majority of the Indian subcontinent poor. No longer was the modernism of form , important but the form had to narrate a change , change for better days and better humans. The movement collapsed under cracks that ruptured the common nationality the writers held through the partition of India. Yes they were left thinkers who had found sustenance in the film sets of Bombay scripting dialogs, stories and turning poetry to songs.
The New Nation had to emerge , and I call it a nation as this nation found not unity in one language or religion or race but the need to get rid of the colonial yolk and the centuries that had plundered the lands of not only the Indian subcontinent but that of Africa, South-East Asia, and South America. It was here where the plot for the Non-Aligned movement was scripted , in this rush for a New World - the Nayi Duniya in Urdu. Artists returning from short scholarships in France and England , others who had stayed back in Bombay and had come under the influence of patrons and mentors such as Rudy Von Leyden and Walter Langhammer formed the Progressive Artists Group. They were KH Ara, MF Hussain,SH Raza, Francis Newton Souza, Akbar Padamsee, Sadanand Bakre, HA Gade, Tyeb Mehta, Bhanu Athaiya and one whose history with them is lesser known - Abdul Aziz Raiba. They all had antecedents in the Bombay School , except for Hussain, the school of painting that had begun at the Sir JJ School of Arts, Bombay.
Literature has been the precursor to many movements of art in India. The Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore established Santiniketan in Bengal as a multi-disciplinary arts university that soon become India's answer to Bauhaus. The reason for that happening was a genuine fatigue one experienced in the neo-gothic aesthetics of the colonial rule and for genuine want to express oneself in a vocabulary that did not resemble western classicism. They looked east , to Okakura, and soon painters such as Abanindranath Tagore were using Japanese wash techniques to demarcate the landscapes of the tropics. With Shankar Palsikar and JM Ahivasi , such indigenous searches for aesthetics reached the doorsteps of the Sir JJ School of Art. A school established in 1858 , a year after the first Indian war for Independence , to inculcate among the children of artisans the techniques of the west so that they would build the monuments and cathedrals of colonial grandiose. AA Raiba reached the school from Nutan Kala Mandir (New Art Temple) where he had honed the techniques of painting having been sent there by his teacher at school who saw he had a talent for Arabic calligraphy. Here is where I talk of the conflict between the schools of modernism and progressive thought. Modernism by writers was scene as an experiment in form and delivery of the content they wrote , one that was to do with a break from the past of folklore, tradition both indigenous and western - eg Shakespeare etc. These Indian modernists had begun to refer to changes that were being seen in France and Germany but also England. They were though largely apolitical and opposed to the activities of the Progressive Writers Group, people they felt had become scribes to propaganda.
The Bombay School of painters briefly described fell with the realm of that definition of modernism, they went about drawing the rock sculptures of Ellora, painting the fisherwomen of Bombay, the undulating landscapes of the Western Ghats and finally embarked on Abstraction acknowledging influences from Paul Klee and much later the Abstract Expressionists. AA Raiba found his feet in this school but soon was sitting with the Progressives. Charles Gerrard the then dean made Raiba the fellow of the school at the crack of independence. Until one day Ara who convened the progressives told him a few wanted Raiba out for he was unsophisticated and too simple for the group.
What was Raiba? In a conversation with the artist and theorist Iftikhar Dadi , Dadi described a practice called ' Tajridi' or the idea of transgression of form and idea , a between the two ends of the modernist story. Abdul Aziz Raiba was an example of this transgressional modernism. An Aesthetic that transpired between influences of cultural history and the political present. AA Raiba was born on Temkar Street , now infamous for an internationally wanted underworld Don, and grew up in the same community of Konkani Muslims. These were Muslims from the coast of Maharashtra who held ties to Arab sailors, their language Konakani was spoken throughout India's western coast across many communities but did not have a script and somehow was always in conversation with Portuguese - through the various inquisitions in that region. Konkanis in Bombay worked in quotidian menial jobs at the Port, or as clerks in the colonial administration or like Raiba's father- tailors. They came to inhabit in the area of Bhendi Bazaar ( Okra Market) which was just north of the city's Fort district and touching the periphery of the now non-existent Portuguese Fort.
Bhendi Bazaar or now the area that surrounds Mohammed Ali Road was a vibrant area until the partition of India. It was once also home to the city's Jewish community, though since long was populated by the city's diverse Muslim community. Many different Muslims, both Shias and Sunnis, from as far as Afghanistan, Iran and Yemen along with those from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Deccan - Hyderabad , Gujarat-Kutch, Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, Kerala and Bengal came and settled in this area building mosques, restaurants and libraries. They were all tradespeople or people who were going to serve the interests of Muslim secular life in India. Thus the Bhendi Bazaar Gharana a school of music began somewhere in the district, it still exists , but not as a physical structure, papers were published and still are in many languages, editors, professors and writers, colleges and institutions made this place their home. Raiba though from a family with little means was growing under the charity of notable individuals keen to modernise the community. Urdu soon became the lingua franca but in its Bombay dialect the more coarse Bambaiya.
Abdul Aziz Raiba thus grew up listening and reading Mirza Ghalib and Allama Iqbal, for him India was one and it was an avenue for the future. On the suggestion of Rudy Von Leyden, he left for Kashmir. Here he travelled for years discovering himself painting those people and memorising contexts for the future. Raiba never forgot Kashmir, perhaps he does mention it later - due to a lost romance to tuberculosis. He continued painting Kashmir throughout his life. This exhibition goes back into those years and presents his series on Kashmir and old Portuguese Bombay. ' The Biography of a Painting' is the title to the retrospective that includes 14 works across his lifetime as I use the words of Ben Shahn to explain the context of Raiba's practice and his place in modernism.
'' I am not the only artist who had been entranced by the social dream, and who could no longer reconcile that view with the private and inner objective of art. The change in art , mine included , was accomplished during World War II. For me the change begun during the late Thirties when I had worked in the Resettlement Administration I had crossed and recrossed many sections of the country, and had come to know well so many people of all kinds of belief and temperament, which they maintained with a transcendent indifference to their lot in life. Theories had melted before such experience. My own painting then had turned from what is called 'social realism' into some sort of personal realism. I found qualities of people a constant pleasure. There was the coal miner, a cellist, who organised a quartet for me - the quartet having three musicians. There was the muralist who painted the entire end of his barn with the scenes of war and then of plenty , the whole painting entitled ' Uncle Sam Did It All'. There were the poor who were rich in spirit, and the rich who were also sometimes rich in spirit. There was the South and its story-telling art, stories of snakes and storms and haunted houses, enchanting; and yet such talent thriving in the same human shell with hopeless prejudices, bigotry and ignorance. Personal Realism , personal observation of the way of people , the mood of life and places; all that is a great pleasure, but I felt some larger potentiality in art. '' - Ben Shahn, The Biography of a Painting, 1957 , Harvard University Press & Paragraphic Books.
Abdul Aziz Raiba travelled south to Tamil Nadu after Kashmir entering temples disguised as a Kashmiri Pandit, and throughout his life would travel to his subjects but make paintings that suited his memory. Ben Shahn explains Raiba's practice unknowingly as they never met or knew of each other. But Shahn in a retort to an art critic's comment that Shahn should be deported to Red Moscow for his paintings and the concerns they illustrate, wrote a book as the biography of the painting in question. Shahn born in Lithuania to Jewish parents who migrated to Brooklyn due to political harassment become a committed voice of the American left. But always remained a painter, he made stained glass paintings like Raiba and also made murals, a part of Raiba's famed mural on musical instruments will be part of the exhibition. Shahn drew from memory and from journeys. Both Raiba and Shahn investigated their subjects before drawing them out. Both illustrated for periodicals and newspapers. Raiba began designing the cover of the Illustrated Weekly using his ability at miniatures but elongating them to a trangressional modernist vocabulary which was surrealist and was encouraged by Walter Langhammer. Shahn drew the portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King for the the Times Magazine, both straddled commercial lives and went about to depict the abject.
Why Abject? As he used to investigate the lives of others for his paintings while making a series of works on old Bombay , Raiba went to a small mausoleum for saint of India's African community in Central Bombay, here he began to draw them and their practices and began to bring to life their myths because he was afraid their stories would be lost otherwise. Bhendi Bazaar is today Bombay's Harlem, Raiba himself suffered through his life the poverty which had grown out of middle class lives due to discrimination of a particular minority. He lived most of his life in a one room tenement sharing it with his children and his mother and one which he had to abandon after it burnt down with a life load of paintings. He shifted to a suburb where most of Bhendi Bazaar and Bombay's Muslim community had shifted after the unfortunate instances of the 90s. Paying for a one bedroom apartment only after Clark House Initiative instituted Artist Resale Rights for his second sales. This exhibition similarly raises funds 10 % for his estate and for the programming of Clark House, the 10% that makes us an artist union. Raiba in his laters years became a story of abject of the art system and finally a success wining the state Art award for senior artists alongside many numerous retrospectives including one at his Alma-Mater Sir JJ School of Art and other group shows on Indian modernism.
He retreated in his later years because his practice was based on an extension of innovative arte povera - he used jute cloth , clay and adhesive to make his canvases that would then soak in the oil, copy the Parsi & Persian glass painting techniques using cheaply available glass and referencing the examples he would encounter in Bombay's flea market - Chor Bazaar - a few streets away from his home. He would rile religious conservatives in Bhendi Bazaar and until the end of his life with his iconography. But always recalled Allama Iqbals's call for persistence and passion to change ones destiny and thus would enrol himself in the adult education center of the Sir JJ School of Art to study print making , the same studio that two decades later would organise his retrospective and bring him back from relative obscurity. Raiba worked with calligraphy and typography and worked on shows that were extensively self designed and curated. The Abject lay in the fact that no one bothered to listen to him - something we continuously as a state do to a large majority.
Modernism in India cannot be understood without observing the transgressions of common people. The architecture of Bhendi Bazaar is similar to that of downtown Cairo and very much like that of Heliopolis. It also shares the apathy and the downfall of dreams. The two districts once traded in tea, spices, rice and cotton. A group of traders of the Bohra community from Bhendi Bazaar still call Cairo their home, families live across these cities. No one knows how and when but Abdul Aziz Raiba's biggest institutional collector is the Egyptian Museum of Cairo. A story that was not listened too and now not to be known. Abdul Aziz Raiba died on April 15, 2016 your writer's birthday. The exhibition is a tribute to an artist who has defined Clark House's discourse on Alternative Art Histories that allow us radical presents. It will shift to the Nehru Science Centre Gallery in December as memorial exhibition organised by the state.
Thus I state the abject and apathy.
'' So I feel that painting is by no means a limited medium , neither limited to idea alone, nor to paint alone. I feel that painting is able to contain whatever one thinks and all that he is. '' - - Ben Shahn, The Biography of a Painting, 1957 , Harvard University Press & Paragraphic Books.
A A Raiba - An Unfinished Practice - Movie by Yogesh Barve Amol K Patil & Parashar Naik
1922 - 2016
Born in Bombay, Maharashtra .Sir JJ School of Art 1946
Studio of AA Raiba - An Unfinished Practice India Art Festival 2011
AA Raiba - 'Drote De Suit' - ' Artist Resale Rights' Clark House 2012
'Miniature to Monumentalism' Retrospective of AA Raiba , Sir JJ School of Art , 2013
Lifetime Achievement Award - Maharashtra State , Jehangir Art Gallery , 2014
These exhibitions were curated by Zasha Colah , Sumesh Sharma and Anant Nikam.
AA Raiba New York Times: http://india.blogs.nytimes.
AA Raiba Art Forum : https://www.artforum.com/
Clark House Initiative is a curatorial collaborative and a union of artists based in Bombay. It was established in 2010 by Zasha Colah and Sumesh Sharma is a curatorial collaborative and artist union concerned with ideas of freedom. Strategies of equality have informed their work, while experiments in re-reading of histories, and concerns of representation and visibility, are ways to imagine alternative economies and freedom. Clark House Initiative intends to actively recall political and artistic figures into contemporaneity, and to question the recent rise of fascism in India based on exaggerated rumours of economic prosperity and nationalist pride.
Membership arises from basic tenets of humanism - Friendship , Anti-Racism, Sexual Freedom, Anti-Homophobia, Anti-Islamophobia, Feminism, Secularism and understanding the project of Modernism as an economic and political reality outside the occident. We draw from the Black Panthers Party, Dalit Panthers Party, Fluxus Group, Richard Wright, John Cage, AA Raiba, Joseph Beuys, Frantz Fanon, BR Ambedkar, Namdeo Dhasal, Cheikh Anta Diop, Nil Yalter, Jean Bhowanagary and Krishna Reddy. 17 artists run the union that gathers many more and are based across many seas. Saviya Lopes is the youngest member of the union and most radical in thoughtand life. Amol K Patil and Yogesh Barve will co-direct Clark House from September 2016 onwards.