South Asian Modern Art 2022

Architectural Digest, India

This evocative new exhibition in London brings together South Asia's greatest modern artists

The “South Asian Modern Art 2022” exhibition plays host to some of the biggest Modern Indian masters of India, besides the magnificent Sadequain—the supreme modern master of Pakistan.
BathersMF Husain
Bathers, by M.F. Husain

London’s Grosvenor Gallery pride themselves in unveiling shows of gravitas and the flavour of classic yesteryear memoirs. Thirty-seven works from the “South Asian Modern Art 2022” exhibition boasts a slew of Souzas, Razas, and M.F. Husains, besides the magnificent Sadequain—the supreme modern master of Pakistan.


Calligraphic Corollary and Coastal Conversations

In the language of both calligraphy, and the dialogue between two fisherwomen, lies the vintage vitality of shared languages and explorations of  themes of memory, language, everyday idioms, and indigenous spirituality. This knowledge is visible across the practices of the brilliant Sadequain, whose Untitled (Reclining Figure), circa 1962, and B. Prabha's Untitled (Two Fisherwomen), 1966 display it.

Reclining Figure 1962

Reclining Figure (1962) by Sadequain.


Syed Sadequain’s work can best be described in the words of the great Faiz Ahmed Faiz: “With the commencement of his phantasmagorical exploration of form and substance, there emerges a series of abstract visual statements, strong and subtle, stripping, anatomizing, and recreating the skeletal forms beneath the visual flesh—skeletons of streets and cities, weeds and plants, men and women.”


In the same darkened vein, celebrating the Dravidian dark skinned fisherwomen talking to each other is B. Prabha’s untitled work that dwells on the predicament of the livelihoods and struggles of women on coastal shores in India. Prabha’s handling of the feminine form is stark, but one of deep feminine fervour and a naive simplicity. Their poise and gesture both draw our eyes to their attire, which is at once humble yet one of deep feminine grace.

Also read: Mahesh Baliga’s show in London’s David Zwirner is the first ever by a contemporary Indian artist

B Prabha

Untitled (Two Fisherwomen) (1966) by B. Prabha.

F. N. Souza’s Still Life and Portrait

Francis Newton Souza’s two early works are about his London days. Businessman (1961) is a monstrous portrait in monochrome. The Stone Gallery exhibited this work, and it was Souza’s friend and critic Edwin Mullins who wrote: “Frequently, these passions are not only violent but destructive, as though each painting liberated the artist from a private nightmare. His art is full of strange perversities and contradictions too. All his most successful work seems to contain something of an emotional clash—vulgarity and tenderness, or agony and wit, pathos and satire, aggression and composure.” The second work is a still life created in the mood of a Picasso, Still Life with Guitar (1961)—a piece that was on the cover of Kumar Gallery’s "Celebration" (2007).

F. N. Souza

Businessman (1961), by F. N. Souza

F. N. Souza

Still Life with Guitar (1961) F. N. Souza

Ram Kumar’s Benares

Benares, circa 1964, also bought from the Kumar Gallery in Delhi, is an abstract landscape of resonance and deep knit austerity. It was in the late 1950s that Ram Kumar shifted away from his despondent melancholic evocations, towards landscapes in an exploration of  the archetypal presence of Benares—Hinduism’s most sacred city—a place of deep spiritual ethos and abject poverty of the widows of Benares.

Ram Kumar Benares circa 1964

Benaras by Ram Kumar (circa 1964)

The Husain Fiesta

From horses, to elephants, to his larger oil studies, M.F. Husain’s works are a study in the art of the narrative as well as strokes that embraced abstraction and the sculptonic identity of Indian temple sculptures. Sakeena (1965) is a portrait that has facial features blurred in cubist arrangement, and the fluidity of creamy ivory strokes. Husain’s next two masterpieces are his Untitled (Surya), circa 1967, and Bathers (featured image).

The colourative ethos creates a symphony of tones. Husain combined the form of the Gupta period, strong colours of the Basholi period miniatures, and the innocence of folk art and worked on it. Husain was drawn to the image of the horse and rider from Indian mythology. In this work, Husain paints a trio of galloping, rearing horses being ridden by the goddess. The panoramic Bathers (1979) engages with the classic subject of bathers. Here, Husain reinterprets the subject in an Indian context, his demure nudes bathing in the Ganges, alongside an ascetic and an encircled elephant.


Also read: This exhibition in Delhi studies the representations of 'linearity' in modern Indian art

Husain's Sakeena

Sakeena by M. F. Husain (1965).

Raza’s Explorations of Colour

Celebrating Sayed Haider Raza’s birth centenary, the three works present the range of his sensibility and his love for geometry and symbolism in the accents of the earth, and his interest in spirituality that went back to ancient India. Untitled (Paysage) (1969) has an amorphous aura of his love for mother earth and its rustic rhythms felt in his memories of nocturnes. The next two works, Form (2001) and Linga (2003) voice his understanding of the Indian Puranas and his love for the Shiva Lingams.

S. H. Raza

Untitled, by S. H. Raza (1969).

The success of this suite of 37 works lies in the embodiment of the artists' interests in materiality, absurdity, reality and incongruities in their own lives. This presentation at Grosvenor London brings to the fore the temporalities of creation and interpretation, elucidating the contextual nature of perception and the experience and stewardship of artworks of masters over time.


“South Asian Modern Art 2022”, at Grosvenor Gallery in London is on display till 1 July.

June 21, 2022