The Claridges, 1 February – 31 October 2020
The twentieth century was marked by two important decades—the 1910s, when the Bengal School saw the establishment of a revivalist practice that came to signify Indian modern art in general; and the 1950s, when a newly independent nation put its colonised past behind it and embraced a triumphant modernism.
The 1950s was a period when the best and the brightest of the art world created some of their most significant masterpieces—among them M. F. Husain’s Zameen, and F. N. Souza’s commissions for American collector Harold Kovner, considered his career’s best works. In 1950, the first copy of the Constitution of India, handcrafted and illustrated by Nandalal Bose and other Santiniketan artists, was dedicated to the Republic, the Progressives were at the peak of their oeuvre, and younger artists were challenging their place with bold formats of art making.
Art and culture had their golden period during this decade—whether cinema, literature, music or theatre. It was a period of hope and celebration, and the art world picked on these nuances to create works emblematic not just of the decade but of the context and subtexts of modernism itself. Schooled artists applied their learnt grammar to Indian subjects and themes resulting in a unique and distinctive language that came to exemplify Indian art.
While remaining socially conscious, Indian art responded afresh to the spirit of liberation and spontaneity that refused to be shackled by past experiences. It laid the ground for freedom of expression best expressed in Akbar Padamsee’s Lovers, which exonerated modern art forever from the strictures of censorship. Art in the 1950s in India was simultaneously serious, joyous, youthful, zesty, sombre (but not brooding), fantastically mind-blowing and mind-blowingly fantastic.