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The Odyssey of Indian Art – From traditional to Contemporary

Indian Art Ideas

Nov 2016

Original Post

Posted on:
May 4, 2019
Posted in:
Art News

If you are looking to find a vantage point to outline the beginning of Indian contemporary art, you might have to research a bit thoroughly.

India is known to shelter thousands of beliefs and cultures under its cover for centuries.
Whosoever came to India, this nation and its people have always shown impeccable hospitality and gesture towards its guests.

Even if arrived ones wanted to settle in India, we never had any problem. The invasion of Mughals was no doubt barbaric and gruesome but Indians showed no problem in making Muslims a part of their nation. Today, the Muslim population in India is considered as an integral part of this nation.

Such is the greatness of India. Artists from every era have taken inspiration from their mundane life routines and civilization that persisted.

However, if we look at the current period, when the face of Indian art is more modern and progressing, it creates a series of questions in our mind.

  • How this arduous transformation does take place?
  • What boosted Indian contemporary art?
  • Was there a starting point to all this?

Unfolding all this and many more, this blog will give you a quick glimpse on how the scenario of Indian art shifted from a purely traditional outlook to a complete contemporary makeover. Let’s start:

Placing the foundation – Raja Ravi Varma

What we see today, how contemporary art in India is flourishing, it is the result of striving efforts and insurgencies of brave artists who had the guts to walk apart from the conventional standards and practices that were prevalent then.

Leading this list, is the Indian master, Raja Ravi Varma – the first artist who showed Indian art a different path to take.

Before Varma, Indian artists were simply following the British or academic style of art that encouraged to imitate landscapes, flora & fauna, portraits, and other figurative themes.

One noticeable aspect of the British Raj was that the Indian artists weren’t allowed to depict something related to their own roots and cultures. Artists who used to craft anything in the Indian form were ridiculed and banned mostly.

Amidst all this suppression, Raja Ravi Varma emerged as the first ray of hope for Indian art. Before Varma, artists in India refrained using oil paints and western techniques.

Varma, however, had other plans. He used the British techniques and paints but created artworks that were connected with the cultural ethnicities.

In fact, not many have noticed but Raja Ravi Varma was the first artist in Modern India’s history who not just won accolades at the global level but also brought art closer to masses.

People, the common people could see artworks and that was a great achievement for Indian art. This all happened between the mid and end of the 19th century.

Most of Varma’s paintings represented the condition of commoners and especially Indian women.

Varma is also regarded as “Father of Indian Modern Art”.

The Bengal School of Art – Painting Patriotism

While Varma was more inclined to provide Indian art identity of itself, his utilization of the Academic style wasn’t appreciated by all.

Bengal School of Art was coined in the late 19th century and soon became the central station of Indian artists’ contribution towards freedom.

Incepted by Abanindranath Tagore, artists of Bengal School of art were completely devoted to infusing a feeling of nationalism and patriotism among the masses through exquisite paintings.

Tagore and his colleagues strongly rejected Varma who adopted the western techniques. Instead, they began to craft paintings using natural colors and techniques but the theme of all artworks was inclined towards one common objective – to strengthen the freedom movement.

It wasn’t until India got its independence in 1947 that Bengal School of Art soon lost its charm and popularity.

Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group – Escalating Modernism

When India finally won its independence in the year 1947, most of the sectors in India were quite slow in terms of growth.

Art, on the other hand, seemed like was waiting to get free. Post-independence, Indian artists realized that they had to shape and define the charm and glory of Indian art.

The starting of Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group in 1948 was a spectacular step in the same vision.

This formidable and famous group was founded by India’s pioneers of Modern art.

Some of these artists who in their young age founded this group were M.F.Husain, F.N.Souza, V.S.Gaitonde, S.H.Raza, Tyeb Mehta, etc.

Despite the fact that this group was dissolved in the year 1956, the ferocious and everlasting impact that these artists and this group left was remarkable.

India soon finds its artists performing in foreign art conventions and exhibitions. The likes of Souza, Ram Kumar, Husain, and Gaitonde especially won a lot of global accolades.

The Indian contemporary art we see today is all because of these people and their efforts.  

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