Usually, an artist’s date of birth and death is something that you glance at in passing, but in the case of Old Traditions, New Visions they are critical to understanding the works. What these particular artists have in common is that they were born and grew up in British India, but did much of their work as citizens of the newly created republics of India and Pakistan – most of the works in this exhibition date from the 1950s and 60s.
'Falling Figure' (1965), a shocking image recalling Tyeb Mehta’s memory of a man being killed during the Partition Riots of 1947, is the only painting that directly references Indian Independence, yet the concept of independence is the underlying and unifying theme of this superficially disparate exhibition.
Some works, like Maqbool Fida Husain’s 'Puppet Dancers' (1963) interpret Indian subjects through a European prism – in this case traditional dancers and musicians through the medium of cubism.
Sayed Hauder Raza, on the other hand, draws strongly on the influence of Rajput miniatures, most strikingly in his painting of a roofscape in Haute Provence (1961). The subject matter – an aerial view of small town against a backdrop of sky and mountains is unambiguously French, but the ochres, reds and blues that dominate the painting are unashamedly Indian in their vibrancy and intensity.
More unexpected, perhaps, is Francis Newton Suza’s 'Christ on Palm Sunday' (1959) in which a thorn-crowned, weeping Christ clutches a palm leaf in his bound hands – an image of celebration and suffering which is not perhaps very far removed from the triumph and tragedy that accompanied the liberation and partition of India.
This is a small exhibition that punches well above its weight, providing a rare opportunity to see a remarkably wide selection of works, drawn mainly from private collections, by members of the Bombay Progressive Art Group and their contemporaries.