Danuska Da Gama I NT BUZZ
It was during the period of Independence in India that Francis Newton Souza was most rebellious. It was a period during which he worked out of Goa and Bombay, and then left India in 1949. Souza was a native of Saligao and after being expelled from two colleges he and a few fellow artists formed a group called The Progressive Artist Group, and went on to paint the reality of Modern India; of what they saw on the streets during that time – the beggars, untouchables, the forgotten of the society, etc.
Souza had two triumphant solo exhibitions at the time and as he began enjoying success as an artist he garnered attention, but his works were stripped from the Indian Art Society in 1949 on the ground of being obscene. The raid on his studio raised questions of a seven-foot high naked self-portrait. Partly hounded by the censorship of his freedom of expression and also to be a part of the art scene he left for London.
The works of the artists during the initial phase before setting out to the West will be displayed simultaneously at Saffronart, New Delhi (December 19 – January 18, 2019) and Grosvenor Gallery in London (December 14 –January 25, 2019).
Termed the landmark exhibition, ‘Souza in the 1940s’ documents the early days of the budding artist’s career and his worthy contribution to the burgeoning Modernist movement in Indian art before he migrated to London in 1949.
BUT NOT HERE
- What does it mean to you as patron of Sunaparanta to be showcasing works of Goa’s master artist, who was celebrated abroad, especially before his career in art took off?
‘Souza in the 40’s’ is indeed a landmark show for Sunaparanta and for Goa. Conor Maclin, a well-known London-based gallerist and curator, has put together a finely curated collection that focuses on Souza’s formative years and some of his earliest works from his time as a student in Goa and Bombay.
FN Souza was one of India’s most acclaimed artists, known for producing thought-provoking and powerful imagery through his unrestrained and graphic art work. His Goan roots and rebellious nature, marred by his troubled relationships and broken marriages, are often reflected in many of his works which were often very provocative and bold. He became known for his aggressive lines and thick application of colour.
His works in the 1940s were painted at the very beginning of his artistic career, some in the year of India’s Independence and the start of the modernist art movement. The early works are in pencil, ink and water colours on paper. We have a total of 148 early works which will be showcased concurrently in London, New Delhi and Goa.
- You’ve been an avid art collector yourself; do you own any of his works?
From my personal collection, I am showing seven works from 1940 to 1948.
Souza’s brilliant, epic works, mostly inspired by his childhood in Goa, include depictions of priests, women, churches and houses in complex mutated forms; this is what I admire the most in his works. From the time I first saw them I was challenged by their complexity of light and shadow, the layered textures and the profound, humane familiarity of the subject. As Ed Mullins said: “they are full of contradictions: agony, wit, pathos and satire, aggression and pity.”
- What should Goans look forward to at this exhibition?
‘Souza in the 40s’ will see 60 works documenting the beginning of the artist’s career. It is a fantastic opportunity for art lovers to see the original works in pencil, ink and water colours.
Visitors to the exhibition will be able to see how Souza functioned as an artist at the very beginning of his career and gauge the growth of his skill and artistic vision in just a few years by comparing them with works he produced around the time of the formation of the Progressive Artists Group in 1947. By then, Hermann Goetz, director of the Baroda Museum, could already see in young Souza the marks of a future genius.
- Do you not believe then that there should be an art gallery or museum dedicated to FN Souza in Goa?
London’s Tate Modern recently honoured Souza with a selection of 10 of his paintings, alongside his European colleagues, putting him back into a historical context he belonged in. The museum dedicated a room for his works, making him the only Indian painter to enjoy this honour. Many of his paintings adorn the walls of prestigious museums across the world – The Birmingham Museum of Art, British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, the Hepworth Wakefield Art Gallery, the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, India to name a few.
In light of this worldwide recognition, a museum in Goa, dedicated to FN Souza’s paintings, would be befitting for an artist of his calibre. It seems long overdue.
Founded in 1960, Grosvenor Gallery specialises in Indian and Pakistani Modernist artists from the period of 1947 till date. In conversation with NT BUZZ, director, Conor Macklin talks about the significance of FN Souza as an artist, throwing light on his 1940’s art
- Why showcase FN Souza’s works from the 40s?
This is the period when he was 16 to 26 years of age, when Souza was at his most rebellious and when so much happened – he was expelled from St Xavier’s for pornographic drawings in the toilets, then he was expelled from the JJ School of Art for taking down the Union Jack as a protest against colonial rule and in solidarity with the Quit India movement, he had his first exhibition at the age of 21, he challenged the Bombay Art Society and set up the Progressive Artists Group, got married, was championed by the art elite as a bright star, raided by the cops on indecency charges, and finally left India for London. These events coincide with the Independence of India, the assassination of Gandhi, etc.
- Why and what makes this period so significant in the world of art?
The importance is the association of the breakthrough of Modern Indian art and the other artists who were part of the Progressive Artists Group. These artists captured the period of rebellion and independence.
- As a curator of this exhibition you are showing his art around the world. What does it mean to you?
This period is now of so much historical importance as it shows the artist grappling with his own identity, personality, history and culture to create a new vision, just as the new nation of India had to do. Souza is therefore not only important to India but to the whole world. We have clients for his works all over the world and more institutions looking at his work. This in-depth analysis of this decade will only give them a deeper understanding. As the curator and writer I have not embellished the facts or given my opinion instead I have thoroughly researched these years through interviews, old catalogues and articles to provide facts and correct information.
- Could you comment on the collaboration with Saffronart and Sunaparanta that made it possible to bring this landmark show to Goa and Delhi?
We have assembled about 150 works which will be split between the three venues which is great, and we hope we get a lot of visitors who will learn about the artist and see that with some talent and lots of determination anyone can become a great artist. We have works by the artist when he only aged 16 and so it would be great to see some 16-year-olds at the exhibition. Sunaparanta and Saffronart share our enthusiasm for Souza and we are grateful for their support.