The Fine Arts Department of the State of Maharashtra will honour the painter Abdul Aziz Raiba with a Lifetime Achievement Award towards his services to the cause of art.
The Chief Guest Honourable Minister Shri Rajesh Tope will present on behalf of the state of Maharashtra and the Fine Arts Department a prize honouring the senior artist from Bombay.
5.30pm | Jehangir Art Gallery, 161 Kalaghoda, Bombay 400001
The Maharashtra State Art Exhibition 2013-2014
5-11 March, 2014 | Timings: 11am-7pm
AC Third Gallery, Jehangir Art Gallery
Marathi text: Shriram Khadilkar
Curated by: Prof. Shashikant Kakade & Prof. Anant Nikam, Sir JJ School of Art; Zasha Colah and Sumesh Sharma, Clark House Initiative.
Letter to the Leydens, possibly by AA Raiba in the name of his wife Aisha.
Courtesy Shireen Gandhy and Clark House Initiative.
Caption reads: The studio without wall of an artist who in imagination reshapes the visual world upon a simple geometrical foundation of lineal supports. This fallen building perished his two decades work of art to dust. During these frequent occasion if twice in artist’s life time has brought untold sorrow. Raiba seemed unable to look back into the faces of those injured and dead, being the most tragic event he had ever seen. His eyes dimmed with total compassion and he buckled as though he himself is buried alive — from the artist’s wife who shares Raiba’s life…who dedicated hers to him.
Some months ago, an extraordinary letter was shared with Clark House by Shireen Gandhy, the director of Chemould Gallery, from the archive of her parents, Khorshed and Kekoo Gandhy. The letter relates a period of psychological trauma, having witnessed the loss of lives of his neighbours, the narrow empty-handed escape from the collapsing building, and the loss of his studio containing at least two decades of work. Raiba might not have been able to write of this event in his own voice, and so chooses to write as his wife, Aisha. A note in Khorshed Gandhy's handwriting, tells us she believes this to be Raiba, writing in the name of his wife. In his wife's voice, he can write with full emotion. Raiba's adoption of alternate identities was a part of him somehow, and has been a way to transcend himself - as he writes in this extraordinarily worded caption to a photograph of himself pasted within a drawing of his old studio: 'an artist who in imagination reshapes the visual world'. Shifts in identity have been a playful and meaningful part of his life as an artist. In Kashmir he took up a Muslim identity, in the South of India, a Hindu one. Here in this grieving letter, that of his wife. Raiba was also a poet, writing and translating Urdu poetry. The adoption of a persona, may come from this heritage, but it is also what makes him most vitally of our own present. His acts of transcendence reveal the absurdity of fixed identities of religion and gender - and what could be more radical and urgent than this in our times? - Zasha Colah
Abdul Aziz Raiba
Text: Sumesh Sharma, 2013
Born in 1922, AA Raiba has had a career that spans six decades. His works form part of prominent collections in India and abroad. Most of his life was spent in a single-room tenement on Temkar street, a locality of Konkani Muslims in central Bombay. In this room that housed him, his wife and his three children, the canvases on exhibit were made from jute mixtures, and painted. Flat figures are bordered by thick black lines initially drawn in charcoal, is a kind of cloisonnism.
Having been trained in the revivalist Bombay School that often referenced visual vocabulary from Indian miniature traditions and influenced by the modernisms exposed to him by Charles Gerard, Raiba charted a path that was independent from the Bombay School and the Progressive Artists Group. His early miniatures were published by the Illustrated Weekly of India for their covers. Encouraged by exiled artist and art critic Walter Langhammer, he spent three years in Kashmir. He documented the folk motifs seen in the temples of Jammu and the Pahari kingdoms of Himachal Pradesh. Kashmir gave him an excellent understanding of perspective while executing landscapes. Documenting renditions of humans and animals within the Pahari miniature paintings provided him with a visual cache that would often reappear in his works. Soon after returning to Bombay, Raiba abandoned the use of watercolour, and began working with oil on a prepared canvas made of jute. Here he began placing these folk motifs derived from Pahari miniatures into cubist perspectives narrating erotic tales of love.
In the early months of 1943, Abdul Aziz Raiba began his association with the Sir JJ School of Art after being offered a scholarship by the dean Charles Gerard. He graduated with a Diploma in Fine Arts in 1946, and was appointed a Fellow to the painting department for a year in 1947. He returned to his alma mater in 1980 enrolling himself for an evening hobby course in Graphic Print Making at the Print-Making Studio while accompanying his senior who was seeking admission at the Faculty of Architecture.
Professor Prabhakar Kolte, who was a young lecturer at JJ while Raiba was at the printmaking studio recounts memories of him sitting in the lawns that surround the faculty while he worked on linoleum plates (linocuts). Though by then Raiba had found success and was considered a senior, Kolte found him an affable man who was friendly with students often showing them his charcoal sketches of nature and architectural studies he had done while on the lawns across from the Victoria Terminus, Crawford Market and the Neo-Gothic School of Art building designed by George Twigge Molecey. Architecture often found resonance in Raiba's practices.
Intrigued by a book he found at the JN Petit Public Library at Fort, on Portuguese Bombay, Raiba began researching on visual residues of Portuguese monuments destroyed by the British in an attempt to purge the Portuguese from the Western Coast and desecrated in modern times by a rising population that began to spread from the islands of Bombay across the creek into Vasai displacing the East Indian Christians who inhabited the fishing villages near the Portuguese forts of Vasai, Naigaon and Sopara. This research of interesting mythical accounts from the city were illustrated by Raiba in his show 'Bombay XVIII Century' in 1975, of a Dargah (mausoleum of a Muslim Saint) of the Siddis - descendants of Abyssinian slaves.
Being a Konkani Muslim from the coast of Maharashtra, Raiba's interest in the city's history was natural. Though he came from a family that had adapted Urdu as their primary language among themselves having published Bombay's first Urdu newspaper, the Raibas married only into Konkani families from towns that dotted the coast around Bombay and they worked traditionally at the city's port authority. The Konkani's were one of India's earliest Muslim communities descendants of Arab sailors who had settled on the coast and converts from Hindu families who often retained their Hindu family names. They were ruled by an Abyssinian Dynasty of Murud and Janjira that often waged maritime wars with the Marathas, British and the Portuguese for control over cities of Bombay, Bassein, Sopara and Chaul. In many villages inhabited by the Konkani Muslims, such as Korlai south of Bombay, Christian communities converted by the Portuguese later called East Indians by the British, and till now speak a Portuguese creole. In the period preceding this exhibition Raiba was forced out of his home in Temkar street, the Konkani Muslim locality near the JJ School due to the collapse of the building he lived in and dire financial constraints that led to his migration to Vasai, now a suburb of Bombay, a city it preceded in history.
In the years after JJ Raiba lived in Kashmir, and the Pahari Hills of North India, developing his study of perspective in landscape and collecting motifs and visual techniques from the miniature painters there. He developed a habit of maintaining a record of exercise books with sketches of his studies and folk motifs as reference material, a practice he continues today. Collected through various research trips he made around India, his works that illustrate a mythical history of Bombay, reference a lot of material he collected from his travels to Kerala and much later his last ever such trip to Goa. Though the Bassein Fort in Vasai returned often in his works, so did shark-fishing, rice terraces and the temple near the tank often seen on the Konkan coast.
Kolte remembers visiting his exhibitions at the historic Taj Art Gallery, in the Taj Mahal Hotel, a venue much used by the modernists. On one such visit he was surprised at Raiba's use of jute and a mixture of clay and glue as his canvas. Raiba then told him that it was imperative of an artist to battle financial constraints with creativity and use any medium to maintain one's practice, citing an example of using cow dung within the miniature tradition of Indian painting. Raiba until now has grappled with financial constraints. Sakina Mehta, recounts her memory of Raiba who was a good friend of her husband the painter Tyeb Mehta. Tyeb would often visit Raiba's home where his mother would feed them with rice bloated with Alum so it could fill their stomachs. Raiba began using discarded pieces of glass after he saw glass paintings in Chor Bazaar, using many layers of glass, painting them and placing them one over other to create deeper perspectives depicting portraits of Muslim and Marathi couples much akin to the mica paintings of the Company Painting School. For a mural he was commissioned to make at the entrance of the Gokuldas Tejpal Concert Hall in Bombay he painted tiles with musical instruments firing them in a vitrum studio, a technique taught to him by Rudy Von Leyden. His experimentation of medium might have been urged by his dire financial constraints, it may have arisen from his training as a miniaturist from the revivalist Bombay School where the students were required to make the surfaces of their paintings called 'Vasli' in Urdu. Presently in his studio that faces a miniature garden in the suburb of Nala Sopara, Raiba endlessly makes sketches on Khadi or handmade made cotton paper, preferring its coarseness for its affinity to jute.
Though considered a master by many of his contemporaries, and in spite of receiving excellent critical reviews of his exhibitions, he fell into obscurity as he never saw equal success commercially as the other modernists of his time. Secondly he would prepare extremely researched exhibitions that would study a subject in detail. Exhibitions would be based on themes such as the History of Bombay, Kashmir: Miniature to Monumentalism, Metaphysical Paintings, the Baramasa of Keshavdas, Mirza Ghalib and Islamic Calligraphy. He would design invites in innovative shapes and Moderist typography, and being a poet himself incorporated translations of Allama Iqbal and stylistic elements of Islamic calligraphy. In one of his last self-designed invitations, he apologises for the lack of a large body of works. His inability to create a substantial body of work, and self-curated shows, led him into retirement from actively exhibiting in the 1990s. Over the last decade having been cheated by unscrupulous dealers and lacking motivation to engage with the art market, he withrew from public view.
Raiba believes his practice to be unfinished even today.