How Raza remembered Gandhi

by Shilpa Raina
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It is no secret that Syed Haider Raza, who lived between India and France, had great admiration for Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings and beliefs.  He, in fact, first saw Mahatma Gandhi in Mandla, Madhya Pradesh when he was barely 8 years old, and the image of the Mahatma with his laathi and half-naked faquir body remained deeply etched in his mind. In the aftermath of India’s Partition in 1947 when his entire family moved to Pakistan, Raza chose to stay back as he felt doing otherwise “would be betraying the Mahatma”. When he earned himself the recognition of being an iconic Modernist painter, along with his signature bindu came other concepts significantly, the Gandhian concept of shanti being one of them.
In 2013, Raza executed a series of seven paintings as a tribute to Gandhi which are now being unveiled as a set by Akar Prakar gallery, in collaboration with the Raza Foundation, in a solo show titled ‘Gandhi in Raza’ at Visual Arts Gallery on Wednesday. Created using subdued hues and motifs that are somewhat a departure from what one usually sees in a Raza painting, each of these seven acrylics on canvas are unique in their content and execution. The show also marked the 95th birth anniversary of the master-artist,
SH Raza, Sanmati, 150 x 150cms, Acrylic on canvas gandhi2
“These seven paintings were made as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, as an expression of reverence. It is like a parikrama by a painter around a great soul who always inspired him. Each canvas clearly highlights the mood and regard that the artist felt towards this great man. Raza has made many works of art in his lifetime using the ideology and words of Mahatma Gandhi; but he personally selected these seven works as tribute to the Mahatma,” says Reena Lath, director, Akar Prakar gallery.
SH Raza, Shanti, 150 x 120cms, Acrylic on canvas gandhi3
A book Titled ‘Gandhi in Raza’ was also launched at the event. Hindi poet and a close friend of Raza, Ashok Vajpeyi writes in the book, “Raza used to visit Sewagram or Sabarmati or Rajghat whenever he came to India on his frequent sojourns to his native country from France, where he spent nearly six decades of his life. For him visiting a Gandhi place was like visiting a temple or a mosque or any holy place. Even when he was well above 85 years of age, some of us have watched him kneel down and touch the earth with his forehead in salutation to the Mahatma.”
SH Raza, Satya, 150 x 120cms, Acrylic on canvas gandhi4
One of the paintings in the show, Hey Ram, is done using very subdued tones. Recalls Vajpeyi: “One late afternoon in 2013, I found him painting this canvas. I was intrigued as his usual geometrical shapes were not there.” In this painting, Raza has inscribed Gandhi’s last words Hey Ram and has used white – an indication of both purity and hope but also engulfing the canvas with mist or cloud of sadness. The solid columns seem to offer a certain defiance and stubbornness: the body is killed but the spirit is surviving.
SH Raza, Thoughts of Gandhi ji, 150 x 120cms, Acrylic on canvas gandhi5
Another work titled Satya is totally abstract, though its many layers suggest that truth can be reached or felt only after passing through many layers of struggle; in Shanti, Raza returns to his favourite theme of peace – the heart of being as he perceives it, and he strongly believes that energy, centralized as it was for him in the Bindu flows from and towards peace.
SH Raza, Hey Ram, 60 x 60cms, Acrylic on canvas gandhi5
“At 91 years of age he struggled hard to write all the words on the canvas, “says Vajpeyi, “and then he created this painting with its colours almost ablaze suggesting that you glow only after you have realized your Swadharma.” His own dharma “was to paint”, Raza had once said. And indeed he stayed true to his own philosophy, and painted continuously till he passed away in July 2016.
The show will then move to Akar Prakar gallery, 29, Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi from March 1 to March 31.

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