An artist and a movement

Inauguration of the first group show of Progressive Artists Group (1948) by Sir Cowasji Jehangir (L to R: Emmanuel Schelinger, F N Souza, M B Gade, S Bakre, K H Ara, S H Raza, M F Hussain, Anant Kannangi)

Any great change in a nation’s civilisation begins in the field of culture.


WE had our own parallel national movement. We were part of the Progressive Artists Group; there were five or six painters in Mumbai and a few in Calcutta. We came out to fight against two prevalent schools of thought in those days, the Royal Academy, which was British-oriented, and the revivalist school in Mumbai, which was not a progressive movement. These two we decided to fight, and we demolished them. The movement to get rid of these influences and to evolve a language that is rooted in our own culture was a great movement, and one that historians have not taken note of. It was important because any great change in a nation’s civilisation begins in the field of culture. Culture is always ahead of other political and social movements.

I was never politically active in the national movement, but I was all for it, even from my school days. When I was 8 or 9 years old in Baroda, the patron of our school was Abbas Tyabji, a great follower of Gandhiji. The school was almost a religious school, but our clothes were khadi, and we used to celebrate Gandhi Jayanti. At that time I used to do huge sketches of Gandhiji on the blackboard. I was already involved in painting, and I was taking part in the national movement, though at a different level. On the first Independence Day I was in Mumbai. While working in a furniture shop, I organised a tableau of freedom with the workers.

When the Progressive Artists Group was formed, there were only six members in Mumbai, and we used to go out and paste posters on the walls, because our paintings were rejected by the society in Mumbai, whose patron was the Governor. It was like a parallel freedom movement.


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