Most shows at DAG take time to develop because of the quality of research and scholarship they require to mount, but even by our own exacting standards, Continuum has taken longer than most. This, a retrospective in a sense of the six artists who formed the Progressive Artists’ Group, is seminal because it is for the first time since 1950 that the six artists forming the core group have been brought together in an exhibition of their works. The Progressives have become the rallying point for the modern movement in Indian art, and are considered among the most important artists of the last and current century. Of these, M. F. Husain, F. N. Souza and S. H. Raza dominate the market. Alongside, works by their contemporaries K. H. Ara, H. A. Gade and S. K. Bakre, who have largely been seen to have underperformed in comparison, will help re-draw such distinctions and place them on the same platform as their better-known peers. It will re-define their historical importance and gain them the recognition that is their due.
If the exhibition has taken five years to create, it is on account of the scale of the ambitions we have set for ourselves. In spite of the very extensive collection of DAG, we set about filling in whatever gaps we could spot whether chronologically, in terms of medium, or subject, or style. Not only did we source other works within India but from outside the country as well. This is what has led to the scale of this exhibition, with over two-hundred-and-fifty works pared down from, of course, the much larger DAG collection, this book of approximately three-hundred-and-thirty pages recounts the struggles and successes of the six artists, and the different journeys they embarked on to arrive at their own distinctive oeuvres and styles. While those differences are obvious when assembled together, it is interesting to draw parallels between the different ways that Souza and Ara treated their still-life compositions, for instance, or the way in which Husain, Souza or Ara painted nudes, or, in fact, the abstract idioms of Bakre, Gade and Raza. Raza, as we now know, retraced his inspiration back to his roots; the difference in the landscapes he started out with and the abstractions begun with his Bindu series, are well represented here.
Similarly, we have been able to put together works across different periods and mediums in Souza’s and Husain’s extensive careers, which map their interests, development and growth across different phases. It was while we were putting together archival material and documentation on the six artists that we noticed a serious lacuna in the availability of biographical material on them. This information on the artists, shorn of jargon, has now been turned into an independent series of books, and with this exhibition, therefore, we launch the DAG Artist Series, and hope to add several such biographies in the market each year and with every show.