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Chronicles of 20th Century India In Modern Art
By Anandita Bhardwaj
07 Sep 2022
The era of the 20th century in India was marked by a sense of earnest vehemence. Finally liberated after over two hundred years of British presence and occupation, the idea of an independent India emerged through the tumultuous decades around freedom in 1947. This sense of freedom and spiritedness also became the bedrock of forming an independent identity for Modern Indian Art. Breaking away from the hitherto style of academic realism and also evolving in terms of subject, the artists from this new century rejected art as a tool to depict idealism and instead adopted it as a medium to express several socio-political concerns that impacted the lives of common people in the country. In its upcoming ‘Modern Treasures’ Auction, AstaGuru will present a range of works by artists who represent the voice of a new India and create works to bring some dark and stark realities. Here are some of the works from the collection of the upcoming auction.
Lot 41: ‘Raj’ by M.F. Husain
A prolific artist, M F Husain drew his inspiration from various aspects of Indian civilization. During the 1980s, the artist ventured on a visual journey to visit India’s colonial past, which culminated into the famous British Raj series. The multifarious canvases of British Raj Series are playful, where tableaus of Indian and British subjects come together with important elements of Indian culture in a satirical visual commentary. The caricatures reminiscent of the dominant colonisers, indolent Maharajas and their bejewelled queens, petty babus, and voiceless servants offer an insight into the social, political, and economic realities of life in India as a colonised nation. Marking a detour from Husain’s mythical inspirations, the British Raj paintings became the artists foray into political history. It continues to be regarded as one of the most important series that the artist rigorously returned to throughout the subsequent decades. The presented work comes from his very first set of British Raj series, and depicts a nautch girl.
Lot 26: ‘Safdar Hashmi’ by M.F. Husain
At the same time, M. F. Husain never shied away from expressing his take and anguish towards politically motivated upheaval observed in the country and the world. The present lot ‘Tribute To Hashmi,’ was executed by Husain to draw attention to the merciless murder of his fellow artist Safdar Hashmi. A communist playwright, best known for his groundbreaking street theatre in India, Safdar Hasmir was attacked while performing a play called Halla Bol on January 1, 1989. He sustained grievous injuries and died one day later. Dated the same day as the death of Safdar Hashmi, this work by M.F Husain is telling of how deeply he was affected by this senseless killing that resulted in the tragic loss. The painting depicts a fallen figure with an expression of shock and horror on the face. Hanging between two branches of a tree, the figure’s face is slashed across the face with a red stick representing the weapon used to stab Safdar Hashmi.
Lot 36: ‘Partition 1947’ by Jogen Chowdhury
Born in 1939 in Daharpara, a village in the Faridpur district of East Bengal, which is now in Bangladesh. During the partition in 1947, the artist with his family was forced to migrate to Kolkata. The trauma and struggle of witnessing thousands of refugees going through the horrific ordeal of a divided nation had a profound impact on him. Emerging out of this sense of loss and agony, his art practice became a way for him to comment on the ongoing violence in the world and also that of pain as an innate and unavoidable part of human suffering. Through his unique naked figures, bearing the wounds of cruelty, the artist explores the deplorable aspects of human nature. Their disfigured torsos with large unhealthy bellies became the precursor to the skewed mangled bodies in his later portraits. Executed on complex surfaces with intricate cross-hatching, his fluid figures form a complex visual interplay of boldness and fragility, and beauty and violence.
Lot 11: ‘Onlooker’ by Bikash Bhattacharjee
Recognised as one of India's most important Surrealist painters, Bikash Bhattacharjee surpassed the mere contextual notion of depicting the ongoing saga of the ‘human condition.’ The political upheaval of and violence in Kolkata during the early decades of the 70s had a great impact on the art practice of artist Bikash Bhattacharjee. With haunting figures bearing hollow gazes and ominous expressions, his subjects became the medium to present the predicament of common people who were inadvertently suffering through this societal turmoil. Titled ‘Onlooker,’ the presented work in the upcoming auction was executed with mixed media on board in the year 1973.
Lot 3: ‘Untitled (Ed : Unique)’ by Somnath Hore
Artistic narratives by Somnath Hore were established based on symbols and metaphors of anguish and frugal existence. His sketches, sculptures and prints were a reaction to major historical crises and events of twentieth-century Bengal, such as the Tebhaga movement and the Bengal Famine of 1943, which became one of the recurring themes in his work. Depicting suffering and contorted figures became Somnath Hore’s unique style. As Somnath focused on achieving technical excellence, his thematic focus widened and he became recognised as one of India’s leading printmakers, receiving two Akademi awards. Devoid of scale and sensationalism, his works continue to represent the bitter truth of man’s inhumanities and the tragedy of suffering at the hands of fellow humans.
The stellar collection will present several rare and unseen Avant-Garde works from the oeuvre of India’s eminent modernists, including M.V. Dhurandhar, Tyeb Mehta, M. F. Husain, F.N. Souza, K. H. Ara, Jehangir Sabavala, S. H. Raza, Ganesh Pyne, Ram Kumar, Jogen Chowdhury, and Bikash Bhattacharjee to name a few. Several of these artworks are appearing in an auction for the first time. The auction is scheduled to be held on September 25-26, 2022. Please visit our website to view the entire catalogue.