Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group: A Story of a Feeling to a Movement for Nation – World Innovation and Creativity Day Special
At some point in our lives, we all have felt that what has been going till now is not making sense anymore and it needs to move towards a new direction. Probably this is one of the strongest intuitions that lead one to think out-of-box, to innovate and be creative. So it was with F. N. Souza.
“I began to notice that JJ School of Arts turned out an awful number of bad artists year after year, and the Bombay Art Society showed awful crap in its Annual Exhibition… It then occurred to me to form a group to give ourselves an incentive. Ganging up in a collective ego is stronger than a single ego. It is easier for a mob to carry out a lynching; and in this case, we found it necessary to lynch the kind of art inculcated by the JJ School of Art and exhibited in the Bombay Art Society.” – F. N. Souza.
Isn’t this feel relatable? This feeling led F. N. Souza, S. N. Raza, K. H. Ara, M. F. Hussain, S. K. Bakre and H. A. Gade to form, Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group (PAG) in 1947.
1947, was the year of freedom. A year to break the shackles, leave the past behind and move towards a better future. After partition, India chose the path of secularism. This fired up all the above six artists as PAG was, in every which way a visual representation of the Unity in Diversity, Secularism and taking the art scene in India towards Modern Indian Arts. PAG was a movement and one of the early ones to voice up for freedom of expression in art, to break the monotony in art by bringing in varied styles of expressing through art.
“We came together through a mysterious chemical reaction. We would be talking all the night. We use to go and sit at the Backbay and talk and talk… We use to talk what art should be and how it should be done…” – F. N. Souza.
Somewhere deep in their hearts, the six aspiring artists, in 1947, believed that it’s time that art needs creativity. All of them belonged to different social backgrounds and had unique artistic style and approach. The PAG members often blended the Indian theme with western artistic techniques such as European modernism, post-impressionism, cubism and expressionism and started bringing in a new approach in arts.
PAG in the coming year started organizing exhibitions of work done by the artists in the group. These exhibitions brought together different styles, different thinking and different artists under one roof. While K.H. Ara created striking watercolour and gouache paintings that resembled folk and native tribal art styles, F.N. Souza showcased an unconventional distortion of form and interestingly merged Goan folk art with western styles such as cubism. In contrast, H. A. Gade is considered among the first abstract painters of post-independent India, who often painted themes related to landscapes. The exhibition of these varied arts started showing a glimpse of what Modern Indian Art was going to be.
PAG, as a group, was short-lived but had shown India, what Modern Indian Art should be. Souza and Bakre departed for London, whereas Raza moved to Paris. Husain too began shuttling between Mumbai and Delhi. This lead to disbanding the group but the spirit of PAG was continuously seen in individual artist’s work. All of them went to become masters of their right and are looked upon as great artists, whose work continues to command respect today.
Bombay Progressive Artist’s Group is an exemplary example. A simple story that started with a feel from a nukkad somewhere in India and paved the way towards Modern Indian Arts. It also tells us that even creativity needs innovation. This is also seen every time, when we see a painting on the street walls or when an artist is performing, be it a standup comedian, poet, singer, musician or any artist. And every artist is innovating every time giving newness to his craft and moving ahead towards redefining it.
What these six artists felt for their field of work & passion is what we also feel in our respective lives, not necessarily related to arts. So if we have that feeling, then we need to start innovating. Reflect over the idea or talk about it with friends over a cup of masala chai. If you look around, at any nukkad, you will also find a relaxing place to talk & allow experimentation. All you need is to just put the intuition into action. The creativity will flow, adding more vibrancy to life.