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Book Review

Title: A Life in Art: Raza
Author: Ashok Vajpayee
Publisher: Art Alive Gallery
Year: 2007
Price: Not mentioned
Reviewed by: Janakiram

Aesthetic Pendulums

Syed Haider Raza turned eighty five in 2007. To pay respects to the living legend, Art Alive Gallery, New Delhi came up with the idea of publishing a huge volume on him. So we have now ‘A Life in Art: Raza.’ Written by the noted poet and cultural impresario, Ashok Vajpayee this book is partly biographical and partly art historical. Amply and richly illustrated, this volume gives a complete picture about Raza’s personal and artistic life.

Monographs that play a double role as the story of the artist as well as the history of his works generally face a genuine problem. The writer is obliged to write only what is good and places his subjects in a good light. The world seems to revolve around the discussed subject. And the works of art are celebrated as ‘promises of the future’ and ‘masterpieces that carry the fruits of the past’. The grey area is bound to be neglected in monographs. Then that is a technical problem. Neither the artist nor the writer could be accused of being partial. For a reader like me, this volume serves as a documentation, which has to be seen with a critical eye as and when the demand comes.

The book opens in a poetic milieu. The river Narmada plays the backdrop. Syed Haider Raza was born in Madhya Pradesh in 1922 and the genealogy could be traced back to a culturally elevated family that belonged to the Mughal Capital Delhi before 1857. The family shifted to MP after the first Indian Independence. Raza grew up in a cosmopolitan environment which helped him to absorb the good side of all religions including his own. He was interested in art from the very childhood onwards and once he grew up he decided to seek his fortune in Bombay.

Ashok Vajpayee details Raza’s trials and tribulations in Bombay and also gives a very nice picture about how he came to be one of the members of the Bombay Progressives Group led by F.N.Souza. As we have seen in the case of Souza, Akbar Padamsee, Ramkumar and so on, Raza too leaves for Paris for further education and career development. The he settles down in Paris that becomes his second home. But he never cut the ties with his homeland and his language.

Raza progresses from landscape paintings to expressionist varieties and from there he moves on to the philosophical abstractions. He incorporates Hindi poems and sayings in his paintings and slowly it becomes his signature style. He takes a great interest in Rothko and slowly his Bindu series is developed. He writes poems and keeps studying religion. He is always there to support the youngsters.

The book contains excerpts from the writings of noted art historians like Yasodhara Dalmia, Ranjit Hoskote and artists like Akhilesh and Sujata Bajaj. The book includes the writings, poems and epistolary engagement of the artist himself. A very good reference book for the art lovers.


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