Although they were born nine years apart, the lives of modern Indian artists Maqbool Fida Husain and Syed Haider Raza converged and diverged at various times. They both spent their formative years in Madhya Pradesh and began their professional careers as artists in 1947. Raza graduated from the Sir J.J. School of Art in Mumbai while Husain quit his job as a furniture designer to become a full-time painter. In 1950, Raza moved to Paris, and made France his home, frequently visiting India. Husain, on the other hand, chose to remain in India, frequently visiting Europe.
In the later years, Raza returned to India in 2010 after his wife’s demise while MF Husain moved out of the country in 2005. Divergent Confluences, a new exhibition at Akara Art gallery, highlights these similarities and differences and how it impacted the artists’ works. The S.H. Raza and M.F. Husain exhibition marks the third show in the 10th anniversary line-up for Akara Art. The celebrations were kick started with the works of Amrita Sher-Gil followed by a show dedicated to FN Souza. “Since Akara Art focuses on modern and contemporary art, we wanted our 10th year line-up to be a mix of modern as well as contemporary Indian artists. We selected S.H. Raza and M.F. Husain for their contribution to modern Indian art and showcase their evolution,” says Puneet Shah, founder of Akara Art.
The 16-work art show has works from Raza’s initial days, and all the way up until 2006. Of the notable art pieces from the exhibition is a picture of the Victoria Terminus (as it is was known then) in Mumbai and the neighbouring area from the late ‘40s. Another key work is a late period Ganesh that was specially commissioned. “This is one of the only known paintings of Ganesh by Raza,” Shah points out. “I particularly like the painting of The Church (1958),” says Shah. Raza, having moved to France by then was inspired by French techniques and formal geometry had found its way in to his artworks. “His early gouaches while having form and structure had an undertone of Indian references — that of miniature paintings,” adds Shah. One can also find a painting from Raza’s Bindu series which the artist considered to be the focal point. It dominated his practice for the rest of his life. The exhibition also puts a spotlight on Husain’s journey. Starting from the ‘50s, the exhibition covers Husain’s themes such as horses, Mother Teresa, the Ganga, mythology and from the British Raj series. Influenced by an exhibition at the Indian Museum in Calcutta in 1948, Husain began painting Indian village life.