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Posted at: Feb 3, 2019, 3:11 AM; last updated: Feb 3, 2019, 3:11 AM (IST)

Birth of the Indian Moderns

The exhibition, Souza in the 40s, is a step into the Goan past

Monica Arora

Witnessing the magic and charm of Francis Newton Souza’s paintings in Goa at the Sunaparanta Centre situated in the picturesque neighbourhood of Altinho is almost a surreal experience. Displayed as part of the exhibition titled Souza in the 40s, the extremely well-curated display is a result of the efforts of the Grosvernor Gallery, Saffron Art and Sunaparanta and features some 60 works from the artist’s ouvre.

Born in 1924 in the village of Saligao in Goa, he studied at the JJ College of Arts in Bombay. Characteristic of his fiercely independent demeanour and his creative personality, he was expelled from college for joining Mahatma Gandhi’s Quit India Movement around 1945. As a founding member of the Progressive Artists’ Group in 1947, he along with fellow artists such as MF Hussain, KH Ara, SH Raza,  SK Bakre, HK Gade, Krishen Khanna and VS Gaitonde, strove to create modern art around the time of India’s independence and also acknowledged the art movements in the West in the 1940s through their creations.

Observing FN Souza’s paintings displayed throughout the gallery premises is akin to taking a step into the past where the Goan landscapes and people seem to have hailed from the realms of a bygone era. What strikes most are the well-defined, clear lines and the vibrant colours. Women predominantly form the subject of most of his art and the artist has a very earthy, realistic and an observant view of most of his feminine subjects. What deserve a mention are his extremely evocative nudes, appearing both powerful and vulnerable all at once.

While the Progressive Artists’ Group was known for its statements on India’s stunning cultural landscape as well its extreme conditions of penury and hardships faced by the masses during the post independence era, Souza’s creations also capture the magnificence of Goa’s natural beauty on one side and are a study of its agricultural and fishing communities on the other. Of course, as a sensitive artist who was hugely influenced by the Khajuraho sculptures, Souza’s nudes are indeed strong and effective renditions of women, on canvas, perhaps drawn from his relationships during the growing up years.

The most charming corner of the displays was the one featuring various cutouts and old newspaper reports, chronicling the formation of the Progressive Artists’ Group, news from Souza’s life during the 1940s to the 1950s and other interesting tidbits.

As Conor Macklin of the Grosvernor Gallery, who is also the curator of the show, says: “The aim of the show was to focus on the ‘Indian’ period of Souza, when he started art school aged 16 and to his leaving in 1949 aged 26.  Because this period coincided with the Independence of India, it is very important historically, and also because this was when Souza set up the Progressive Artists Group.  This group is more widely known as ‘The Moderns’.  These artists are now the most expensive in auction history and historically have defined this period of Independence.”

The most exciting aspect of the show is that it is also featured as an India Art Fair Parallel Show for the 2019 edition, covering all three exhibitions, which are being held concurrently in London, New Delhi and Goa from December 2018 to January 2019.

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